May 17, 2020

More than ever, we need to take risks

written by Lisa Eason

Life is a risky enterprise that always ends badly. But if we allow fear to crowd out living, existence becomes pointless. I’m concerned that Covid-19 — and, in particular, the authorities’ reaction to it — is undermining our reasons for being on Earth.

I’m fortunate because I did a course in statistics at university that covered subjects such as probability and risk. It allows me to put anxieties about this awful disease into context. If you are under 60 and do not suffer from an existing illness, the likelihood of your dying from Covid-19 is very slim — lower than being drowned, in fact. So it makes no sense for most of the population to be locked up, terrified by relentless scare stories and government propaganda.

Tragically, the authorities took catastrophic advice from their gurus on the Sage advisory group and locked down the country. We committed economic and democratic suicide based on junk science from Imperial College London and the hypocritical Neil Ferguson, with his exaggeration of the perils. The politicians panicked and society has been left with the unintended consequences: collateral damage to our standard of living, our children’s education, and anyone with illnesses other than Covid-19.

It was incredibly disappointing that in his speech a week ago, Boris Johnson repeated the utterly discredited figure of up to 500,000 deaths forecast by Ferguson’s model. This suggests either the prime minister is a fool for believing such rubbish, or a charlatan for repeating something he knows is bogus.

Meanwhile, the sacred NHS was protected so well that half of intensive care beds are empty, while untested, vulnerable patients have been decanted into care homes — so infecting others and leading to excess deaths. This might not have happened had the focus been on quarantining the people truly at risk, but preparation and expertise were almost entirely absent in No 10.

These mistakes will have lasting consequences. We will lose trust in the experts who let us down. Britain will be seen as a less attractive place to invest. When Boris the bluffer talks about “coming out of this stronger than ever” and how we will be “more innovative, more dynamic”, he sounds delusional. Almost every business and community will be poorer. There will be higher unemployment, less confidence, more debt and greater levels of insolvency.

The concept that everything in life needs to be safe is paralysing. With minimal relevant evidence and no perspective, millions of people appear too scared even to leave their homes. Such behaviour is wholly unsustainable, unless we want to revert to some form of subsistence existence.

Unfortunately, society has not adapted to digital communications when it comes to a pandemic. Images of chaos in Italian hospitals triggered political and civil panic, then lockdowns among many western nations. Endless stories about deaths, symptoms and suchlike have made Britain a neurotic place. An obsession with “safety” — as if life were a safe undertaking — means we are struggling to reopen schools, businesses and public transport. A lack of understanding in senior government — and among the population as a whole — of the real dangers from both the virus and the lockdown has distorted all debate and decision-making.

While few of us readily admit it, chance plays an important part in most aspects of life: careers, relationships and health, to name a few. Cancer is our leading cause of death — almost 30% of us are likely to die from it. Lifestyle choices affect the likelihood of dying from cancer, such as smoking, heavy drinking and becoming obese. But the greatest influence is DNA and the randomness of mutations that lead to malignant disease. To a great extent, cancer is about the luck of the draw.

The trajectory of a life is not pre-determined. Entrepreneurs, more than most, hold fast to the idea that we can control our destiny, yet even the most ebullient founder would admit this is only partly true. This pandemic is an unpredictable, external event, but our fate is in our hands. We must be grown-up about taking calculated risks and responsible for our actions. The authorities must stop scaring us, give us back our freedoms, and let us live fully.