CORONAVIRUS | OPEN LETTER TO GENERAL SIR NICK CARTER


This is an open letter to General Sir Nicholas Carter, Chief of the Defence Staff and a fellow alumni of mine. I have sent this letter in hard copy to General Carter at his office in the Ministry of Defence London, and copied it to the Prime Minister and also to my Member of Parliament. It’s all very well me getting things off my chest here on my blog, but it’s important to take practical steps to effect change as far as possible.

Dear General Carter

You and I attended Army Staff College, Camberley together in 1991. I was the first RAF Regiment officer ever to attend Army Staff College. A fellow RAF Regiment officer and good friend of mine followed in my shoes in 1994: he went on to become Air Marshal Sir Graham Stacey KBE CB whom you may know. Indeed, I attended Sir Graham’s Dining Out from the Royal Air Force at RAF Honington last year and had a beer with him then. I was selected for promotion to Wing Commander (Lieutenant Colonel) in 1994 but left the Royal Air Force for family reasons in 1995. I remain closely associated with the RAF Regiment. Here’s a clip from our Camberley course photograph, you top left and me on the right. We both look a little older now.

I’m concerned about the government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis. Specifically, the government appears to be struggling with the first Principle of War, namely ‘Selection and Maintenance of the Aim’.

To be fair, the government’s aim (or mission) initially was ‘to protect the NHS in order to save lives’. That mission has been achieved. However, critically, it’s not clear what the government’s mission is now. The government appears to be floundering as it tries to decide how to release the country from lockdown. The risks are clear. There’s no immunity test for Covid-19. There’s no vaccine for Covid-19. We have no herd immunity to Covid-19.

Therefore, as and when lockdown is lifted, the prevalence of Covid-19 in the population will rise again. How can this not be the case because nothing has changed since the day before lockdown other than the capability and capacity of the NHS having been improved? We can’t spend the rest of our lives in lockdown. Indeed, we can’t spend the rest of our lives living in fear, wearing largely ineffective facemasks (the Covid-19 equivalent of a comfort blanket), distancing ourselves from each other indefinitely and standing on our doorsteps every Thursday evening clapping into the air. Society can’t function like this.

It doesn’t take an archbishop (nor indeed a British general) to work out that we’re going to have to take casualties in order to recover any sort of societal normality, not least to establish herd immunity – our greatest opportunity to survive Covid-19. Immunity testing and a vaccine (in particular) could be many months in the future. Indeed, we may never develop a vaccine.

Economists know what the answer is here: it’s called ‘utility’. In this context utility can be thought of as maximising happiness for the maximum number of people. At the moment, we’re maximising misery (indefinite lockdown and the wholesale destruction of the British economy) for the maximum number of people in order to prevent what could, at worst, be 510,000 Covid-19 deaths, ie 0.8% of the population (you or I could end up being one of those casualties).

Added to the normal rate of 600,000 deaths per year (you or I could end up being one of those casualties too), this means that we’re cratering the British economy for a generation and transforming our society into a near-dystopian way of life in order to reduce our total chance of dying of any cause in the next twelve months to under 1.75%. If this is an unacceptable death rate, then what is the government’s acceptable death rate? 1.5%? 1.0%? If the government’s objective is to reduce to an absolute minimum the number of Covid-19 deaths, how does the government foresee us ever building herd immunity (our greatest chance of surviving the virus)?

I accept that this is a desperately difficult decision for the government (and even that’s an understatement). However, what’s happening at the moment is the political equivalent of you planning a military campaign and making the mission not to defeat the enemy, but rather to protect every soldier’s life. We’ve got things arse about face which you’ll forgive me for saying – but which is true, isn’t it?

So, the British government’s mission focus must now shift to maximising the happiness of the maximum number of citizens whilst accepting that a tiny fraction of society will take a hit. It sounds brutal. It is brutal. That hit could include you or me or my dear 89-year-old mother. However, I’m having sleepless nights (literally) about the shocking destruction of the economy that’s now taking place and its implications for my children and even theirs too. I would wager that many if not most of my fellow citizens are unaware of the enormity of the economic disaster looming before us. The British people have been scared into ‘staying home’ and ‘staying safe’ to the point that, worryingly, polls show the majority still want to stay in the bunker – such has been the power of the government’s message (some might call it propaganda).

Therefore, I should like to request, sir, that – urgently – you use whatever influence you have to explain to the government the relevance and critical importance of the Principles of War, first and foremost of which is ‘Selection and Maintenance of the Aim’. You’ll know too that, in this context, the Principles include the need for ‘Offensive Action’ (get the economy working again) and ‘Maintenance of Morale’ (which speaks for itself).

Well done with your career achievements. I enjoyed my time at Army Staff College; I learned a great deal there and retain abiding respect for the Directing Staff and, indeed, for my fellow students which included you, of course.

I have copied this letter to the Prime Minister.

Keep buggering on.

To stimulate debate, please share this post on social media using one or more of the buttons below. Tell people you share my views; or tell people I’m talking cobblers; I don’t mind either way. I just want us all to use peaceful means to effect change. Jaw-jaw is better than war-war.

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See you down the pub … eventually.

33 comments

  1. Alice de Janze · ·

    Sorry I meant to add the executive summary of the complete report which reads as follows:

    Sequential CQ / HCQ Research Papers and Reports
    January to April 20, 2020
    Executive Summary Interpretation of the Data In This Report
    The HCQ-AZ combination, when started immediately after diagnosis, appears to be a safe and efficient treatment for COVID-19, with a mortality rate of 0.5%, in elderly patients. It avoids worsening and clears virus persistence and contagious infectivity in most cases.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Alice de Janze · ·

    They government was clearly NOT following the science because this has been known since 2005:

    22 August 2005

    CDC Special Pathogens Branch

    MJ VIncet, E.Bergon, S. Benjannet, BR Erickson, Pierre Rollin, T.G. Ksiazek, NG Seidah,
    ST Nichole. Chloroquine is a potent inhibitor of SARS coronavirus infection and spread. Virology Journal. (2005) 2: 69

    Chloroquine has strong antiviral effects on SARS CoV infection of primate cells in tissue culture. These inhibitory effects are observed when cells are treated with the drug either before or after exposure to the virus, suggesting both prophylactic preventative and treatment use. The paper describes three mechanisms by which the drug might work and suggest it may have both a prophylactic and therapeutic role in Coronavirus infections.

    Full report here:
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1545C_dJWMIAgqeLEsfo2U8Kq5WprDuARXrJl6N1aDjY/preview?pru=AAABceuZssU*Dak1k7-VRQcbsD9IvLRaRQ

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Bob Evans · ·

    Your well written letter makes many good points with which I agree. We really do need to get the economy going again and let people make their own choices on so called isolation. We will be paying for this for years to come and we risk permanently destroying some sectors, eg civil aviation, car manufacturing etc.

    Furthermore, I feel that the virus is not as deadly as the BBC would have us believe, an opinion shared by a distinguished friend, a professor of medicine. I am not convinced that the outbreak originated exactly as reported by China, and that opens yet another debate about how we construct our post pandemic world . Less reliance on cheap products from China for a start.

    Whilst I found the style of your letter amusing, perhaps a good way of getting noticed, I am cautious about using Army doctrine as a reference for what is essentially a political matter. Sadly, our Army lost its name in the Middle East; mainly by allowing itself to be ‘fixed’ at great cost in blood and treasure. Like you I was exposed to indoctrination from the ‘manoeuvre priests’ but I see no role for generals in our precious democracy.

    Keep writing, I enjoy your nocturnal musings. Whilst your distinguished friend deserves praise there are many aspects of the Army system that does not bear close scrutiny in modern times.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · ·

      Thanks Bob – and I have just ordered and downloaded to my Kindle, ‘Losing Small Wars’ by Frank Ledwidge. I fear it won’t be an enjoyable read …

      Like

  4. reallyoldbill · ·

    I entirely take your point, Mr Mint, but I am far from convinced that the UK opening up its dormant economy again will actually achieve much unless the majority of other countries do too, and at roughly the same time. Not only do we require customers for whatever it might be we intend selling, but also thanks to complicated and “just in time” supply chains that invariably cross international borders we need production and export to us from overseas too. I understand that the PM will be taking part this week in a virtual conference call with leaders of other countries and suspect that this reality will be at the top of the agenda. Let us hope so.

    Funnily enough, (and here we again confront the apparent differences in personalities), I actually take comfort from the fact that most other countries are in the same economic boat that we are. I would be far more concerned if we were on our own in the lifeboat floating around on these choppy seas.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · ·

      No, I’m with you Bill. The point I want to make is that we have to shift our mindset from ‘stay home’ and ‘stay safe’ and don’t come out of the bunker until Covid-19 has gone away (the current mindset) to a mindset which makes it clear that we have to get the economy going again. As you say, that in itself will be an epic – for the reasons you state, and others.

      However, if we continue to allow abject-fear-of-Covid-19 to dominate the national mood (as it does now), we’ll just go from bad to worse (or from terrible to catastrophic, take your pick).

      This is about political and commercial leadership – and it will need to be leadership of the first order. If we keep deferring to the medics and the scientists we may as well close down the United Kingdom for a couple of years and furlough all 66 million of us. That should work …

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Martyn Edwards · ·

      reallyoldbill,

      I think that you are worrying unduly. Admittedly, international trade is a consideration, but in the immediate future at least, chiefly where food imports are concerned, and not with regard to much else. GB produces about 60% of its food. This is indeed a serious strategic shortcoming.

      However, the British Isles as a whole is self-sufficient in food production. This means that there is every incentive to consolidate improving relations with the Republic of Ireland. If harmonisation of corporate tax throughout the EU results in multinationals fleeing Ireland and leaving it in a financial mess, we have to be there to support them, and follow up the sterling assistance provided by George Osborne.

      Our exports account for just 15% of GDP. It is not the majority of countries that we have to worry about as you claim, just the ones that we do most business with. It would not surprise me to discover that the bulk of our international trade is conducted with possibly about a dozen out of 200 countries in the world. Our major trading partners are opening up for business so I see no real cause for concern.

      I accept that if we were the only country having problems, the situation could be worse. But I put it to you that the situation would be far worse if we were the only country not having problems and there was no one else to do business with. The was the very reason that led to the collapse of the Egyptian civilisation.

      This is all explained in The Bronze Age Collapse – Mediterranean Apocalypse on You tube. In the light of our present predicament this gripping and compelling account ought to be compulsory viewing.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The other concern about restarting the economy was brought home to me yesterday by one of the car manufacturers CEOs…(can’t recall which one)

    To the effect….there is no point re-starting a car plant, when elements of his global supply chain (the factory producing widgets for the car seat, for example) remains closed.

    Not to mention a complete collapse in demand……!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · ·

      Precisely, sir. So many folk are unable or unwilling to join the economic dots. When you do, the resulting picture is a nightmare. However, the strategy for now is to continue to give absolute priority to health and to the pronouncements of medics and scientists. I think that’s wrong. I think we’re going to pay a dreadful economic and, therefore, social price for tackling this disease. I understand the arguments for fighting the disease. However, if we’re not there already, we’re engineering the cure to be more deadly than the disease itself. Only time will tell who’s right, but there must be a public and transparent debate …

      Like

    2. Martyn Edwards · ·

      Very good comment.

      The changes in society we shall witness after lockdown has been lifted will be attributable not only to top-down instructions from governments, but also to a change driven from the bottom of society upwards, that is, consumer behaviour. The closing words “a complete collapse in demand” are more frightening than “Wu Flu”. Thanks.

      The public has been badly scared and it will be focussing on basic needs for the foreseeable future.

      Much as I am ideologically opposed to Dr Finlay’s stylish approach, I have to concede that he did make an apposite statement when he described the economy as “fluff and floss”, because so much of it is, as we are indeed about to find out. Albeit unwittingly, he added a new dimension to the discussion.

      Collapse in demand = collapse in GDP = collapse in government tax base = collapse in government income = collapse in government expenditure = increase in taxes = collapse in demand.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Andrew mcpherson · ·

    Quiet in the ranks! If I were your commanding officer I would be tempted to put you in the guard room. Please please contain your anxiety.
    The key thing is we have no weapons to “
    defeat” the enemy, except it running out of victims. Until we do we must find ways to avoid the enemy whilst we live our lives. The ramping up of testing will help us see the enemy. If we buy time we will get smarter, arm our selves( drugs) and make the virus impotent( vaccine) . Your offensive action will feed the virus. Yes feed the virus Moraymint. Not smart.
    You are quite right the government has a very many difficult decisions to make. Mostly about timing and sequencing. Give them your confidence and confine your anxious ramblings to a private letter to your old comrade. Puting it out in public gives me sleepless nights.
    Your pal Dr Finlay

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · ·

      The post isn’t an anxious ramble. It’s a pretty forensic cost-benefit analysis weighing up the pros and cons of living our lives in fear of Covid-19 alongside the requirement to prevent the economy declining into a depression or worse. Giving absolute priority to preventing death-by-Covid-19 pending effective medical interventions, including development of a vaccine, without any reference to a timetable is a worrying strategy. The economy is already on its knees.

      I hope I’m proved wrong about this when, on Thursday, the government tells us how and when we get out of lockdown. Meantime, with each passing day, the consequences of vertical economic decline give me sleepless nights – which makes two of us! The leading indicators of a looming, long-term economic catastrophe are becoming more visible by the day.

      We have just a matter of weeks – to the end of May or early June – to see credible signs of firing up the economy again. If you’re telling me that by then we’ll be testing, tracking and tracing 66 million people, with mitigating drugs in the system and a vaccine just around the corner then it might be game on. If not, my money’s on some pretty awful economic and social challenges if we’re still largely hamstrung into the second half of this year or, heaven forfend, into next.

      You’re a medic focused on health care, but some of us choose to and have to look at the economic consequences of prioritising absolutely the prevention of death-by-Covid-19 over macro socio-economic stability. There has to be a discussion, ideally in public (we’re a free society, after all). There has to be a balance too. However, at the moment the balance is tilted heavily towards fear (verging on panic) of Covid-19. That’s why 80% of Brits don’t want lockdown to end. Yes we must tackle the virus and yes the virus alarms me as much as anybody else – but not half as much as the consequences of remaining in hiding indefinitely. When, for example, do the medical and scientific professions predict that we’ll be back to what might reasonably be called normal economic and social activity? In a couple of months? This year? Next year? Have they calculated the impact on the economy and society of prioritising at virtually all costs protecting us from Covid-19? If they haven’t done those calculations, then who is doing them and who decides which approach takes priority over the other? This is the mother-of-all public debates, Dr Finlay, not exchanges of letters in private! This post today has had over 2,000 hits worldwide and I’ve had nobody come back to me in private or in public to say (a) shut up and/or (b) you’ve got it all wrong. Well, not quite true: there’s been one such response!

      One way or another we have to get the economy going again, and soon; the consequences of not doing so don’t bear thinking about – potentially for a generation. But I acknowledge your view that what matters most to you is fighting Covid-19 whatever it costs (financially) and however long it takes until such time as it poses no more of a threat than malaria, pneumonia, HIV/AIDS, Hep B and TB – – each of which worldwide, right now, is a bigger killer than Covid-19.

      I just don’t buy the purity of your view.

      https://tinyurl.com/s8t9pde

      https://tinyurl.com/w3vztve

      Yours ever

      MM

      Postcript

      When Cambridge statistician Sir David John Spiegelhalter appeared on the Today programme, he agreed with the suggestion that most of us are more at risk from a car accident than Covid-19.. “As a rough rule of thumb,” he said, “if you get the virus your chance of dying is roughly about the same as you would have had this year anyway. And if you’re not worried about dying this year, you shouldn’t be so worried about getting the virus.” Never mind; let’s trash the economy from end-to-end nonetheless; then we’ll be as safe as houses LOL!

      Like

    2. Thomas Taylor · ·

      80–90% of generic medicines used in the NHS are imported (source: https://www.pharmaceutical-journal.com/news-and-analysis/features/india-and-china-spark-concerns-for-uk-drug-supplies/20206998.article?firstPass=false). The Baltic Dry Index is already 40% down, on this time last year, and if soon we can’t buy medicines any more then what will you treat people with?

      Like

  7. Mark · ·

    This expectation of getting back to normal as espoused by TPTB is a tad worrying. I guess they have to say it to avoid “scaring the horses”….but I see a lot of inertia as described by you and others

    Generally risk averse culture in the wider society
    Litigation liability for SMEs
    Percentage of people in guaranteed state funded employment

    And – to the points you raise in your letter..

    It’s one thing for officers to lead the troops towards the sound of gunfire….the military ethos, training, leadership, demographic and backed up with a covenant that says we will look after you if you get hurt (sorely tested at times, but that’s another discussion) means the troops will advance knowing there is a certain probability of casualties….

    Now, in an academic sense, the casualty rate in your post is low, and weighted, so in principle,
    “let’s do it”

    How many of the people will venture out and advance to the sound of the guns, knowing they have a 1% chance of getting hit……?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Chaswarnertoo · ·

    Spot on MM. I now think I may have met you once. Did any of your children go to Leeds uni.?

    Like

    1. moraymint · ·

      No, one to Edinburgh and the other to Robert Gordon, Aberdeen!

      Like

      1. Chaswarnertoo · ·

        Ah. Must be another colleague with very similar views.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Martyn Edwards · ·

    Moraymint,

    Good letter. Thank-you for devoting your time to drafting it and sending it.

    My immediate response was that you could have mentioned the R value and demanded to know what level was acceptable for the government to consider relaxing lockdown in response to relevant scientifically-based information.

    You wouldn’t get a definitive reply though. Politicians are evasive and non-committal.

    Another factor not discussed is the unequal geographical distribution of the incidence of Wu Flu. It is largely an urban phenomenon. 4 out of 10 Wu Flu deaths in the UK are in London. Why should rural regions with lower levels suffer because of London, Sheffield (with its large Chinese contingent) Birmingham, Newport and Wolverhampton?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · ·

      Good comment, Martyn, and I did consider including reference to ‘R’. You can appreciate that in such a letter, there’s only so much to cover to be able to make the point without rambling. However, I accept your comments here and agree with them …

      Like

      1. Martyn Edwards · ·

        Moraymint,

        I accept your point. I do not like wafflers either. Even if I was trained to be one.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. derekbernard · ·

    More power to your pen, Moraymint.

    It would be wonderful to develop a mature, public discussion on these complex and highly-emotional subjects.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Betting the country’s economy on a computer model from a source with a questionable record shows a want of judgement.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Jason · ·

    This ‘crisis’ will be used as the key to unlock access to what has bern hitherto
    politically impossible to do, namely taxing the huge (sic) wealth politicians think is locked up in property and pensions.

    It is no co-incidence that the virus primarily targets the older part of the population who overwhelmingly own this wealth.

    I can see the mantra now ‘but we have caused all this economic damage to save you it’s only right you now pay back for the sake of younger generations’

    It may not be a Big Bang approach but expect things like abolishing of NI (which pensioners don’t pay) into income tax (which they do pay), taxing imputed rents (hits those who have paid of mortgages mainly older people), means testing state pensions (once the link with NI is broken) and even nationalising private sector pensions (to bolster the unfunded public sector schemes)

    I think nothing is off the table we will revert to the old style of society. A thin layer of super rich living a fantastic life and the bulk of humanity living a subsistence almost slave existence

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’ve passed this around to various, and am wracking my brain for more. Meanwhile I’m frustrated to find that you were but recently within spitting distance of me. We could have had a beer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · ·

      Thanks Brian. Where did our paths almost cross?

      Like

      1. Right now I can see the radar tower at RAF Honington.

        Like

        1. moraymint · ·

          Aha!

          Like

  14. Martin Heath · ·

    Well written Moraymint. You will know from our earlier conversations that we are simpatico on this issue. Needs a brave politician (oxymoron?) to espouse this view.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Chris · ·

    Hello, Moraymint.

    What you have written makes eminent good sense.

    When you speak of the ‘Selection and Maintenance of the Aim’, in the mist of this ‘war’, the absence of a visible enemy does present a quandary.

    Are we faced solely with a potentially deadly microbe, or are there other forces at work behind the smokescreen; those sworn to a ‘5th Column’, with ulterior motives motivated by the expression ‘Never Let a Good Crisis (oops … Virus) go to Waste’?

    In other words, a British Government which is being compelled to fight on two or more fronts …

    As with most things, I guess time alone will tell.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. ‪The government’s reason for the lockdown and the removal of our civil liberties was to avoid NHS being overrun (Protect the NHS). Boris returns to work and announces the lockdown must continue but changes the reason to avoid a second spike of Covid-19 infections and to protect the elderly and vulnerable. The continuing government mantra is “we are following the science”.

    So, the government is following, not leading. They appear to not know what they are doing. This lockdown is no longer about protecting the NHS or protecting the elderly and vulnerable. It is about protecting the government’s credibility and reputation.

    ‪It seems that Britain is being run by a group of unelected scientists and mathematical modellers.

    In which case, the PM and all Cabinet Ministers are surplus to requirements.‬

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Chris Emblen · ·

      Of course we are following.
      We made plans based on early (not early enough) evidence from China. We adjusted those plans when Western Nations started to get hit hard and we are adjusting again as the effect on Western Europeans turns out to be different to Asians.
      Read the scientific papers on the virus from Jan to Apr, they are often a world apart.
      I’d rather a Government that adapts to the situation (and advice) than one that ploughs blindly on.
      Only time will tell if advice was correct.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Reblogged this on The State We're In and commented:
    ‪The government’s reason for the lockdown and the removal of our civil liberties was to avoid NHS being overrun (Protect the NHS). Boris returns to work and announces the lockdown must continue but changes the reason to avoid a second spike of Covid-19 infections and to protect the elderly and vulnerable. The continuing government mantra is “we are following the science”.

    So, the government is following, not leading. They appear to not know what they are doing. This lockdown is no longer about protecting the NHS or protecting the elderly and vulnerable. It is about protecting the government’s credibility and reputation.

    ‪It seems that Britain is being run by a group of unelected scientists and mathematical modellers.

    In which case, the PM and all Cabinet Ministers are surplus to requirements.‬

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Stephen Scott · ·

    In a nutshell

    Liked by 2 people

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