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Life Experience

The greatest threat to our civilisation today – social distancing

Social Distancing has already trashed our economy and ruined many lives. Thousands of businesses have closed permanently. Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs. And many people have died because hospitals postponed operations and treatment. Social life was totally halted for months. Weddings were banned. Even churches that had never closed in hundreds of years were ordered to close. Schools were closed. Tourism and air travel industries have been shattered and for millions of people in this country and around the world taking holidays in another country has become a financially and personally risky thing to do. Social gatherings remain limited or impossible with a devastating impact on our cultural life and those who work in leisure industries.

Life more controlled than in war time

Since the Second World War social distancing has become the greatest threat to our way of life (prosperity, employment, business, education, the arts, travel, religions, pubs and restaurants, holiday industries, festivals), but social and psychological disruption is far greater than was experienced even in a world war. Communities in the war situation could meet and people could work together and enjoy leisure activities. Yet the danger, the risk of dying of covid-19, is minimal compared with all-out warfare and we are all less likely to die of covid than a whole range of other diseases and dangers we face. You can see the statistics for yourself below.

No theatre, no restaurant, no pub, no educational establishment, few shops and businesses can function normally and be economically viable so long as social distancing is maintained.

Repressive restrictions out of proportion to the dangers

We have got the risk out of proportion – The media have presented an unbalanced picture of the danger we are in.

Corona virus is very dangerous only for very ill people and especially the elderly who are already ill. There is no doubt that many have had their death hastened by the virus. (about 46,000 people). Nevertheless the daily flow of death statistics have been presented to us out of context. Hundreds of people die in the UK every day (over 1400 deaths per day, about 540 thousand in a year – statistics below). We have been given the impression that we are all in grave danger not just of catching the disease but also of dying from it when other dangers are much greater.

The statistics of what has happened in recent months and how the death rate from covid compares with the five year average from other causes show the danger as significant but not overwhelming. It may be just another danger that we are going to have to get used to living with. The statistics also show that the healthy under 65 age group (although they may well get the virus) are very unlikely to die from it as compared with the risk of dying from other causes. See the chart below this article.

Who do we need to protect? Who needs to avoid getting too close to other people?

The elderly with health problems and anyone else who is seriously ill, need to be protected from contact with the corona virus and also health workers who are dealing with corona cases and the sick and the elderly on a daily and close-up basis.

Is social distancing necessary for the population as a whole?


Black Lives Matter demonstrations in London and other cities on 20th June and serious overcrowding on Bournemouth beach on 25th June did not lead to huge increases in infections, suggesting that outdoors, at least, social distancing is not so important.

The World Health Organisation has only ever recommended distancing by one metre.

Education and social distancing

Only a few weeks ago great fear was being expressed in the media about the dangers of children going back to school. Teachers unions were demanding that re-assurances should be given about the safety of teachers. Teachers needed to be sure that they were not at risk of contracting the virus. The talk in the media, especially David Shukman, the BBC Science Correspondent, continued to re-iterate the idea that people including children in schools should stay 2 metres apart. TV news bulletins showed how schools were preparing to operate with desks 2 metres apart and children kept 2 metres apart throughout school buildings. Classes were to be only half size to make this possible.

Somehow, eventually, an awareness seemed to filter up to the top health advisers and politicians that children do not die from covid and hardly ever experience noticeable effects. On 19 June Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, announced that all children would return to school in September in normal size classes.

My view for a long time has been that schools, colleges and universities should not only be open but be fully functioning with no social distancing. I have lobbied health advisers, politicians, journalists and trade unionists on this point.

Young people cannot develop normally at a distance of 2 metres from each other. Classrooms are unworkable in these conditions. Outside school children mingle as is natural and necessary whatever happens inside the buildings. College students cannot function as human beings 2 metres apart and are at minimal risk.

Will children carry the virus back to their parents? The evidence (some of which I have set out elsewhere) seems to suggest that children rarely transmit the disease. However, since most children’s parents are of relatively young age their risk of serious ill-health caused by corona virus would be very slight anyway.

In my view, so long as access to older people by potentially infected individuals is carefully managed the rest of the British population should be allowed to resume normal life.

Have a look at the official statistics and see what conclusions you think may be drawn?

You can go to the source of this table with the accompanying analysis at Cambridge University Risk Communication

David Roberts, 28 May 2020 with revisions 3 August.


You can go direct to their website for fuller information and further analysis.

Comparisons of 16 weeks of Covid deaths vs other causes over a year.

Table 1 lists the number of deaths registered with Covid-19 in England and Wales up to 3rd July 2020 in 5-year age bands, and compares with the number of deaths from other causes. Other causes shown include influenza during an average year and during a bad year, deaths from injuries and all accidents, and deaths from road accidents, suicides and homicides. Influenza data are estimates, adjusted to England and Wales’ population and 5-year age bands. See the Appendix for sources of all statistics, and any adjustments done to each cause of death reported.

We note the massive increase in the numbers of Covid deaths for increasing age.

Table 2 –  Compared with other causes over the whole year:

For each age-group under 20, fewer have died with Covid than on average die from flu each year. This means that for all ages above 20, more have died from Covid than would typically die from flu each year.
For those over 90, around the same number have died with Covid as died from flu in 2014-2015, the worst recent year.
For each age-group under 35, fewer have died with Covid than on average die from road accidents each year.
For each age-group under 50, fewer have died with Covid than on average die from accidents and injuries each year.
Note that over 80% of Covid deaths are to those with a pre-existing medical condition. If we conservatively assume that at most 40% off the population have such a condition, then the Covid death rates for people without such a condition are less than a third those reported above (this follows since at least 60% of the people are experiencing at most 20% of the deaths).

There will be some additional Covid deaths over the remainder of 2020, although this is likely to be limited due to additional measures being precipitated by outbreaks.


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David Roberts

Writer, publisher, music promoter

Born in 1942, I now have time to enjoy life more widely and reflect on my experience, interests, and contemporary events.

David Roberts

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