57: Nick Hudson
Chief Executive Officer - Sana Partners
Nick Hudson, actuary and co-founder of Pandemic Data Analysis (PANDA), goes completely against the government narrative that the lockdown is necessary to preserve our health. On the contrary, he says it will kill far more people than the virus. Have the government-appointed modellers have got it terribly wrong?
22 July 2020
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CIARAN RYAN: This is CFO talks, I’m Ciaran Ryan and I'm joined today by Nick Hudson. Nick Hudson is an actuary and a specialist in private equity investments. He's a founding partner at Sana partners and has a long career in the financial sector, as well as being a fellow of the Institute and faculty of actuaries. Nick spent a decade at RMB Ventures and he spent four years at Stern Stewart in New York, and then six years with Swiss re group. In March this year concerned about the long-term effects of COVID-19 and the effect it might have on South Africa, Nick and fellow actuaries founded pandemics data and analytics, otherwise known as Panda. To provide decision-makers calculated data on the viruses cost to South Africa and the livelihoods of South African citizens.
Panda has been making quite a stir in the South African media by challenging the official modelers who have the ear of the president and who's figures are the basis of the current lockdown. Probably the most extreme in the world. Nick Hudson in March 2020, the government's official model has suggested 351,000 people could die from COVID in South Africa. Now you highlighted your concerns with these models and how they failed to explain real world observations from countries that were ahead of us on the curve, but it seems that your, prescriptions, if I can put it that way fell on deaf ears. You mentioned that COVID-19 deaths in South Africa would most likely land in the region of 10 to 20,000 and that seems to be right based on the current data that we have. That's a massive difference. 350,000 versus 10 to 20,000. How did we get into this mess? And first of all, welcome Nick having introduced you, but if you could answer that question, how did we get into this mess of so much data confusion?
NICK HUDSON: Yeah. Thanks. Thanks Ciaran, and thanks very much for having me on the show. The question of the data confusion is one that continues, to just absolutely gobsmack me. Because it's you know, by the time our, elaborate numbers came up from the modelers, it had already been shown elsewhere that that type of model was producing massive over estimates in its sort of conventional calibration and with its conventional assumption set. We actually pointed out even at that early stage that the whole model class that was generally being used by the zebbies worldwide was producing curves that just were completely the wrong shape. You know, that weren't representative of what was being observed in country after country. We forget, we had quite a lot of experience back then, the first bit of really valuable information came not out of China, where one has to be very careful about the numbers, but out of the diamond princess cruise ship and that was a wonderful Petri dish experiment that allowed anybody with, you know, any interest at all in what lay in store for the world to get quite a clear picture of who was affected by this disease and so on. And very early on, just based on the observations from that cruise ship, we produced a series of numbers that gave us a, an estimate of what the maximum deaths for each country would be likely to be and those numbers have stood the test of time. You know, the only country in the world that's got come close to meeting its Diamond Princess number was Belgium and I think it got to 70% of it.
CIARAN RYAN: Just pause there a second and just explain what the diamond princess was. It's a cruise ship, which had I think 700 people on it,
NICK HUDSON: 7,000.
CIARAN RYAN: Okay. 7,000 And just explain that.
NICK HUDSON: Yeah and so that what happened was there was this boat, that had, you know, very dramatic imagery around it. There, this story that emerged of a virus sweeping through the ship and people dying and eventually the captain, uh, decided to lock down the ship and force everybody into their cabins and the people were kept in the cabins for quite a long time. Japanese authorities wouldn't allow that ship to even dock let alone people to get off, you know, the medical attendants went on in hazmat suits and it was high drama, very high drama with a lot of camera footage and imagery of the boat, a lot of headlines.
But what happened was, yes, you've got the virus on board and it goes around that boat and out of the 7,600 people, there were, I think, 12 deaths and all of those deaths were in over 65s. There were none in amongst the crew or the younger passengers. Despite the fact that the crew was almost unable to isolate because they were sleeping in quite tightly confined births with six people, a piece, I think at least six.
Um, and of course they were common air conditioning systems and the whole, the whole toot. So what this story gave you when the analysis was in, was a clear picture of it? You know, who gets effected, who has asymptomatic cases and you know, who's likely to be subject to a severe disease course leading to death and so, you know, it's not a very difficult calculation. You don't require actuaries or statisticians to do this type of calculation that can be done in a desktop spreadsheet by anybody who has got matric maths. You can go and see, well, if I apply those deaths rates by age category to countries, you know because you can see their population age distribution, then I can get to an estimate of what will happen in the real world.
CIARAN RYAN: Now you mentioned that there were, there were 12 deaths. When I was reading about this, there were seven, which gave it a 1% death rate for the entire population of the ship. Has it gone up since then? 0.1% sorry.
NICK HUDSON: Yeah, it did go up, after that first paper, there were another five deaths. People who were struggling along. I think some of them on ventilators for quite a long time. And yeah, so it ended up at 12, which was 0.2% of the population, but bearing in mind that you've got a very unusual setting, in the sense that the population density is very high. I think somebody said they had done the calculation it was like a million people per square kilometer, you know. So, the density on a boat, obviously, high, people are socializing a hell of a lot that people are doing buffet dinners and so on. And then, you know, the cruise ship stereotypes are more or less true, lots of old people, lots of overweight people. So you've got a slightly different population from what you will find on dry land and that's what you have to adjust for is the age distribution of people in normal countries relative to this cruise ship. And when you did that,
CIARAN RYAN: So basically you have situation where on a cruise ship in a very confined space you have almost a laboratory type setting for examining this Corona virus and how it spreads and what kind of population it's infecting, is that correct?
NICK HUDSON: That's correct. Right and I think Ciaran where things started to go pear shaped as far as the modeling was concerned, is the epidemiologists were more interested in the evolution of curves so they had their eyes on China and its cases and deaths. Now they're trying to calibrate these very complex mathematical models, partial differential equations that need to be solved by numerical techniques and dozens or sometimes even hundreds of parameters that have to be calibrated and need to be and they're looking for ways to calibrate the data, the parameters from the real world. So, they're much more interested in what's going on in China, you know. But there were a lot of misleading stories told about China roundabout that time, and I think they swallowed them and almost to a man. I think the epi’s missed the Diamond Princess altogether. We wrote an article called The epidemiologist that missed the boat, which was referencing the fact that there was this perfect experiment that told you everything you needed to know and why are we going around building these complex compartment models as they called?
And then why are we sticking with them? After the emerging data on dry land tells us a very different picture, you know paints a very different picture.
CIARAN RYAN: Right, okay. Sorry, have you finished your, you were elaborating on a point there.
NICK HUDSON: I was just about to close it off by saying, you know, that the differences were amazing. I mean you know, in the UK, Neil Ferguson's team decided that they would be as many as 550,000 deaths, you know. The whole world total only just passed that, so there were catastrophic errors.
CIARAN RYAN: Right. I wrote a story about this at the beginning of the lockdown saying that this may have been the, I forget exactly the title I used, but it may have been the evidentiary cock-up of the century. I didn't use the word cock-up, but a mistake and it's obviously having dire consequences on the livelihoods of South Africans. Now you've challenged this and you really are sort of going against the mainstream. You know, what is astonishing really in all of this is people who are commenting, even on YouTube are getting shut down when they don't agree with the World Health Organization and I find that quite disturbing. But is your message getting through to anyone in government perhaps they've been hoodwinked and that their models are wrong.
NICK HUDSON: Well a very strange thing happened, one morning I woke up with a phone, I wake up very early, but a couple of hours later, the phone rang and it was, somebody from Minister Mkhize’s office asking me to join the modeling symposium, which was the meeting with the members of the South African Corona virus modeling consortium in there are four or five participants in that meeting and with journalists and a variety of other interested parties present. So, you know, completely unprepared, I went into that meeting as I joined the meeting, I saw that my name was being added to the agenda after all the models presented. And I said, well, what do you guys want me to talk about? And they said, no, you just say what you've been saying about the models that. So I did, I had eight or 10 minutes off the cuff and I told them (that’s still available online if anybody wants to listen to the remarks) was also very accurately reported by a journalist at the citizen newspaper who was listening very carefully and got the story absolutely right. And we, at that point thought, okay, well we've obviously been heard it's all okay. But it wasn't the case, it wasn't to be and the models that came out in May and later a few days after that symposium, the update of that model was even more exaggerated and we would kind of shocked by it when this thing came out on the 12th of June.
And we pulled the little stunt there. We looked at this thing and scratched eyes and said, no, come on you know, and by that time we could see the Western Cape was getting quite mature in it’s epidemic process and so we slapped one of the curves onto the Western Cape that has been observed to fit very, very well the data internationally what's called a Gompertz curve and we fitted that curve and sent them a much tighter confidence interval and a forecast for the Western Cape. Together with slightly tongue in cheeks, sort of observation. We think you're going to blow through the bottom confidence interval of your very wide range model on the 13th of July. As it turned out, we were wrong because they blew through it on the 12th of July. It was almost comical in that, you know, if you we're not doing any fancy modeling, we don't have anybody who's manning a machine slaving away all day to try and solve differential equations and, you know, build a causal model of what's going on in the world as far as the virus is concerned. We actually think that that's a completely futile task to start with, you know and it's much better to look at what after all the factors are in and the real result is out, just describe the real result and think how it might be different for your country, you know, because it's a younger population, because we've got a different prevalence of co-morbidities, because we've got a different prevalence rate of obesity.
You know, you take a high level sensible, common sense view, and you can get to very different answers about when the epidemic's going to peak and about how many people are going to be affected and how much you need in terms of resources hospital beds and so on, you know. So we sent that thing out on the same day that they brought out the update and the whole story's there on our website and just blew through the bottom of their forecast and our thing is still tracking, even though we never really set the thing up as a long-term forecast, it's still tracking straight down the middle a month and a half later, you know? And so we not modelers, we're not here to try and build a model of the epidemic we just sitting here calling out this bad science.
Consequences of lockdown
CIARAN RYAN: Right and for people who want to check that out, your website is pandata.org.za. Now, in one of your reports, you mentioned the effects of all these doomsday predictions, which was really a crazily over the top and people are understandably afraid of dying that, you know, you can see that they don't know this is not something that they've ever experienced before. But why is there no open and honest public debate about this?
NICK HUDSON: Okay, so I want to just make a link from those models to this observation you've made now because I think there's a gap that needs to be filled in here Ciaran. The one thing that astonished us in all this mathematical further to go and plot the epidemic trajectory. And upon, as a result of having reached certain conclusions about the epidemic, then to go on and advise government that we should lock down okay. With all of that going on, nobody seemed to be factoring in the consequences of lockdown. Okay. And it was very disturbing for us because you know, disease burden and as its consequences are modeled all the time in terms of, you know, if you map from disease burden to the economy. And so the techniques exist to do work out how, sort of the mortality consequences of disease affect the economy. You can reverse that mathematics very easily using very standard techniques to go from an economic impact to mortality and morbidity impact, you know, because the economy does nothing other than mediate life, you know. But it's because we produce things that we were able to survive when you stop producing things, people stop surviving, right, or they don't survive as well. If you're talking in terms of morbidity, and this was very disturbing for us, that these guys were going and shoving all their intellect and mathematical training at the epidemic curve and just recommending this policy without even bothering to model or even to mention the costs.
I mean the analogy that I've used is it's a bit like you know trying to assess the profitability of an insurance policy, taking into account only the premiums, you know, and not looking at the claims. And here we were with these guys, all recommending lockdown talking about the potential benefits, which as, you know, as it turns out are largely illusory and not talking about the costs. And so we thought, look, that's something that we need to do is address that problem, there is a tradeoff. It's difficult to talk about the world and tradeoffs, it's, you know, ethically challenging to do that for me, particularly, but that part of the picture just wasn't being painted.
And if you take yourself back to that period, you know, the early weeks of our lockdown. South Africans loved lockdown; they thought the president had done a wonderful thing. He was showing some leadership for the first time and you know, this dangerous virus was coming and this was the right thing to do to protect the people of South Africa and lockdown was popular. So when we were raising our heads above the parapet, there was a real probability that they were going to get chopped off and this seemed like a fairly sensible way to sort of put a wedge in the door as it were, and just start making the conversation a bit more nuanced. So we wrote that paper called Quantifying the years of life lost to lockdown, which we thought was innocuous but man did it make a fuss.
And just one other thing, linking back to what you said, you're quite right, YouTube videos being pulled down of very senior established, experienced, viralogists, epidemiologists, immunologists, you know, this is not tin foil hat, brigade people. We talking about people who have had decades of experience, you know, the most famous people in the field being silenced on YouTube and other social media platforms. And that's a very real thing.
CIARAN RYAN: I might just mention one of them from Stanford university, that's professor John Ioannidis. Is that how you say his name?
NICK HUDSON: Said phonetically (You-wan-ee-dees)
CIARAN RYAN: Ioannidis yeah and he challenged this very early on and he again was looking at the princess cruise ship as an isolated model, which really gave a very good indicator of the likely effect of, of the virus. One, doesn't hear much about him either these days. I mean, can it get any more senior than that?
NICK HUDSON: The thing is, you know, we hear about him all the time because there's a sort of underworld of, people who are connected on Twitter or exchange the video clips on various platforms and so on.
But you're right. I mean, these guys are basically no platformed and the very interesting thing is that when Ferguson, before Ferguson came to the world with his 550,000 deaths in the UK, and 2.2 million deaths for the U S a professor from Stanford university who is not even an epidemiologist had been looking at the data is he's a top notch data science guy, Professor Michael Levitt. He wrote to Ferguson and said, you're making a mistake, you're missing something here. There's something wrong with your numbers and he gave, he laid out his arguments and his assessment pointed out some features, some technical features of the Chinese data and the diamond princess data, I believe and he said you know, I'm getting a much lower number, I'm getting like a 10th of your number, what's going on? And that was ignored and, and professor Levitt, I mean, to get the attention of the world, the hoops he had to jump through, I mean, he ended up on, you know, for a person of that stature a Nobel Laureate, he is the 2013 Nobel Laureate I think it's biochemistry or something. And in order to get attention, I mean, he had to start appearing on some pretty marginal podcasts because you know the standard mainstream media people were just not interested, you know, And, and so it's a spirit of the times thing, I mean, it's not that you're talking about dangerous people with crazy theories about cures or 5G telephones or anti-vaccs or something crazy, you know, conspiracy theory types. These are real scientists some of whom were really experienced in the field being denied a voice.
CIARAN RYAN: Right. I mean, I'm just looking at the stats here in South Africa. Here we are, at the end of July, we have had seven and a half thousand deaths over a period of four months, and there's been 471,000 reported infections. Just talk about those figures, first of all, are they reliable figures, do you think?
NICK HUDSON: So I mean, I always say to people you know, you're listening to an ideologically motivated person, if they deny either one of under reporting or over reporting. Okay they both happen obviously both happen, okay so how does under-reporting happen? Well, it might happen if somebody, like, for example, in a rural area, somebody gets sick and you know, they’re an old person and the family thinks it is not with moving them and then they pass away. Okay and that is not recorded until much later, there's no clinician available at the time of death, the death happens, but it's not really clear not to anybody what caused the death that might not be recorded as a coronavirus death. Okay. On the other hand, it's very well known that there are a lot of deaths that happen on a, you know, what we call the died, the died with or died while basis. So the person who died while Corona virus positive, and this would be somebody, for example, maybe some 45 year old has got an asymptomatic case doesn't even know he's infected with coronavirus and has a heart attack, because middle aged men have heart attacks, it's been known to happen. And that guy gets into hospital and the next day he passes away, but he's been tested, the test results come positive and you know, the cause of death is attributed to Corona virus. So that'd be an example of over counting.
CIARAN RYAN: Right.
NICK HUDSON: What, what complicates this whole thing, I mean, there's this big fuss going on at the moment around the excess deaths reporting. Now bearing in mind that we start our story in terms of our appearance in the public eye, with this observation that if you shut down an economy, it'll have a mortality consequence, all of its own. Okay, so that's where we start and now the excess death reports started coming through and there is excess mortality that's over and above what's been accounted for coronavirus. But the inclination is to attribute all or the majority of the excess deaths to you know unidentified Corona virus deaths or unreported coronavirus deaths. And we think it's a mistake and we think that in the coming weeks, we will see as the curve in the Western Cape continues it's now long established decline, it has been in decline for more than a month is that decline continues, we don't think that the excess mortality decline will continue for the simple reason that we have destroyed the lives of countless South Africans.
CIARAN RYAN: Okay just to drill down into that a little bit, what you're saying there is that there's actually an undercount of cases not linked to COVID in other words people are dying from other things from malnutrition and that kind of thing. Do I understand you correctly?
Take a step back
NICK HUDSON: We don't know what it is because the statistics are not detailed, but I always just ask people to just to take a step back, you know, one of the features of these guys who are doing all this modeling is that they're all paid government salaries you know, they are not at risk here lockdown, happens here, they're not affected their salaries keep on getting earned and it just seemed to have this incredibly low empathy for the life of the, you know, the lower middle income South African, you know, that's, quite a big chunk of our population and what's happened to that person, one of the million and a half people who've lost their jobs and, you know, it will be another million and a half over the next couple of months and all their dependents, you know. You're probably talking about the impoverishment of you know, 6 million today to maybe as many as 10 million, by the end of September. It's a big chunk of people and I just remind people that these are not people with savings and networks of wealthy friends who can help them out through a time of need they go straight from like a marginal kind of existence where they're making ends meet and the kids are going to school and everything to a very, very stressful and distressing situation and our government does not cater for that. You know, it does not make up that gap. It doesn't have the financial or the administrative capacity to do so, so life gets tough very quickly and I just find it very difficult with people who turn around with this kind of no, no Hudson, you're talking nonsense poverty, doesn't kill kind of attitude. I mean, I just find it quite breathtaking in its arrogance, you know? And I worry about it, I mean, I and this is the kind of thing that'll emerge gradually and, you know, by the time the damage is done, you know, it's too late and what'll happen is over the course of years, the situation will become reflected in the statistics.
CIARAN RYAN: Right, I can give you an example of that which I witnessed myself after the 2008 financial crash, the evidence of the catastrophe of that wasn't visible for about two years, perhaps even four years, where you start seeing people being sued by the banks for falling into arrears on their mortgage bonds. That's catastrophic, you know, once you start getting the two things that you need most, if you're going to operate in the economy is a car, because you need to be mobile and well, you could argue that you don't really need that, you can operate remotely now, but you do need a house and if you've got children the socioeconomic impact of that after 2008 was catastrophic. And I'm already seeing that because I do a lot of reporting on this, people who've been summoned by the bank. I just think that's brutal and I don't know if you have any view on that. If government was really concerned about the population, they would put a freeze on this, because this is something that the ordinary people were not responsible for. Why should they be left to carry the can for this? Why should they be getting summons to the court because they're in a arrears on their mortgage bond and then probably thrown out of their house.
NICK HUDSON: I mean, these very specialized intellectuals, I think what they miss is, you know, is that you can only consume what you produce. If you turn off production, you know, people suffer. There's no magic money tree out there, you know. So, you saw all these sort of rather left wing economists who've read a bit too much Canes and their time, coming out and writing furious letters to the newspaper, demanding that government, you know, launch a massive stimulus project. Oh yeah, okay sure in the intense time that that'll help and maybe you're going to use some of that money to buy, to import some provisions that will stop people from dying immediately. But, the reality is that if people stop producing, somebody has to stop consuming, you know, and yeah, there's this sort of idea that you can just wave that away with a magic wand of some modern monetary theory or some nonsense, you know, the state can provide. It's an illusion, it's an absolute delusion, you can do that for a very short period of time, but when you've cut production back and destroyed the productive capacity of the economy, which is something that has happened that real institutional destruction, that there won't be replacements of those institutions for years to come because capital formation is a gradual process, but, you know, the reality is that these guys just don't see it. You know, they've said we overstate the economic impacts of lockdown and that it's no worse than if we hadn't locked up, which is nonsense, absolute nonsense, you know. Turning off the revenues of companies is a whole lot worse than having them sort of go down because people are not being as mobile, not shopping as much because of the virus.
So, it's almost like what they did was overestimate the effect of the epidemic it's much smaller than they already thought and then not just underestimate the consequences of the lockdown, but fail to estimate them at all. They estimated them at zero, okay didn’t even bother mentioning them in their models and so it's like it's, to me, it's comical, absolutely comical. There's something that's being, we haven't, we should just join a dot or two for the listener out there who might be a little bit confused by this kind of line that I'm taking, because you know, in the media, this things being blown up to be something big and you'll see a headline like South Africa is fifth in the world in cases. Now, I think it needs to be said that that kind of reporting is dishonest and causing a perception that drives fear and I'll just quickly unpack that for you. Okay, so it's true that statement that South Africa's fifth in the world in cases is true in number of cases, if you drop it down to deaths, I think we come in at 26 in the world in number of deaths okay. But if you drop it down to deaths per million of population, in other words, you're adjusting for the population size. We go all the way down to 44th in the world or something like that, or I think might be somewhere near 40th in the world. Which is a very different picture from fifth in the world, right. The headline makes you think South Africa is having one of the worst epidemic experiences the reality is we aren't even close. We are far, far, far behind those badly hit countries like Belgium and so on and you know what is the trick that's being performed there? Well, first of all, they're just failing to disclose to you that South Africa has done a whole lot of testing so we've picked up more cases than other countries and there the important thing that your listeners need to understand is that the number of infections is always a big multiple of the number of cases, anywhere between six and 200 times, you know. Because this disease for most people is a very mild story and they don't even know that they've got it don't even know that they're infected, you know, and for some who do know that they're infected, it's a mild illness, similar to a mild flu or whatever, you know, it's a minority who have a severe disease course. So cases is a fraction, a subset of infections the number of tests has a lot to do with how many of the infections you pick up. Okay. So it's not necessarily a bad thing to have a large number of cases if what's driving, it is testing. Right. And then the next thing is the trick that they failed to tell you about is, this division by the number of people in the country to try and get a measure of severity. And so, you know, the scandalous fifth in the world headline gets turned into a 44th in the world and not very remarkable quite quickly by steps that any journalist should be capable of understanding.
And so you wonder whether the headline is just clickbait and deliberate fearmongering and that for me is disturbing.
CIARAN RYAN: Right I, do get a sense that people are sort of tuning out of all of this bad news, because it's just been overwhelming for the last four months. Just, I want to pick up on a point that you raised a bit earlier about the, the virus in the Western Cape the curve is declining is the same happening in how Gauteng we had a spike there about a month ago. What's the picture there in Western Cape and Gauteng?
NICK HUDSON: Yeah our sense is it's difficult to tell from the statistics at the moment, cause there's a sudden strange catchup happening like, you know, in the last week there've been suddenly deaths reported that, you know, that clearly date to prior weeks and that's been done in, I think if I'm not mistaken as the Eastern Cape, KZN, Gauteng and the Free State and it's all happened at the same time, which is kind of suspicious. Right. So, what's going on there and because of that, the intervention of those updates or extra reported deaths in this last week, it is a little odd to see what's going on. But, if you look at all the other metrics, you know, admissions are down and a very reliable indicator for us is pick up the phone and speak to the doctors, right ask them what's happening. They'll tell you no no no it’s quietening down. Okay so we think there are signs of Gauteng peaking and we think that South Africa is probably past its peak already and that's quite unusual because well not unusual it's quite that should be striking some people as an interesting statement, because I think just last week, Prof Slim was on the television talking about a peak in October, you know, which we have always said was not, this is not how this epidemic behaves. It doesn't work like that, you know, it's not nowhere in the world does it work like that. So, you know, here we are in July, not October forget September, you know?
CIARAN RYAN: Right. I mean, I was looking at the stats for Italy because Italy was in the news so much over the last few months and it looks like the virus is virtually eliminated there. I was, I was talking to a professor in New Zealand, just a couple of weeks ago and New Zealand has opened up again. Not the borders, but the there's no social distancing, there's no wearing of masks. you can go to a restaurant as normal. They only had 22 deaths and they had, I think it was 1,500 cases. Clearly there's all sorts of anomalies, which that throws up.
NICK HUDSON: You're talking about per million there or something that right now. Sorry. I think your numbers might be out there and I can't remember Sweden off the top of my head where you're talking Sweden there.
CIARAN RYAN: No, I was talking New Zealand,
NICK HUDSON: Sorry, in New Zealand sorry you broke up a little bit there, so the question of Australia and New Zealand is a very interesting one. One of the things that I kind of got wrong, well, sorry, when I say I, we at Panda got wrong and it was my fault was to ignore the idea that this thing follows flu patterns. I think it's an idea worth taking seriously and, you know, flu is a seasonal disease, and it goes around the world in a certain pattern. I think it's worth taking seriously. I mean, we saw Brazil get going before South Africa, and now we find that in Australia and the Mediterranean climate area of Victoria state, they're now getting back. And so I do have part of me that sort of suspects that this whole story is about, is about the season not having been struck yet.
You saw the Sunbelt States in America coming in late. They were the latest dates to come online in America with an epidemic curve. So I think it's a very interesting, you know, kind of, I'm curious to see how that all plays out and where the science eventually lands on this as to, you know, what caused the different timing of starts did the epidemic cause it wasn't, it clearly is not just about when does the disease make landfall. You know, we've got lots of countries that had this sort of first returning ski trip as well, business trips, people, and there were a few deaths and then they sort of peter out and, and then there's a long wait and then the thing starts again.
I think people are in the popular imagination, too much as being attributed to the effect of lockdown. There are a couple of ways to analyze now there's enough data to look at whether lockdown was effective, whether it caused reductions in mortality, as some people have claimed or curve flattening as more people have claimed, and the evidence is not strong.
You know, we're not seeing a positive correlation between the severity, sorry the positive correlation between the severity of a lockdown and the number of days to the peak of an epidemic. And we're not seeing a positive correlation between the severity of a lockdown and the total number of deaths per million of population. You know, those two high level measures are not showing us any effectiveness for lockdown. And then more importantly, if you look at the individual country experiences, as they go into and out of lockdown, you also don't see a signal. You know, the extent of this is extreme, and I remind people of it all the time when Germany and Denmark came out of their lockdowns, there was this yelping and squealing from the epidemiologists that said, you've crazy we haven't reached herd immunity. You know, serology is only testing at 20% of the population you've got everybody's going to die, stay in, lock down. Of course, they didn't stay locked down, and there was no wall of death and it just never ceases to amaze me that the people who, who make those claims, whether it's journalists or epidemiologists, you know, when they make these predictions and the predictions don't come true, they don't revise their assumptions and don't come up and say, listen, I was wrong and I think it's for the following reasons, you know, that's another, just totally disturbing feature of all of this that makes me seriously wonder about these people.
Access to the ear of government
CIARAN RYAN: Right. If I can just turn back to the question I asked you earlier about, are you getting the ear of government, now you resorted to submitting a promotion of access to information act or a paya application to get access to government's modeling data. Now, astonishingly, the government's response to those applications was legal, they dragged it out so that they wouldn't have to hand this over to you. Is that case still ongoing. Are you still trying to get access to that information?
NICK HUDSON: No, it did come through a little bit late and you know, we accept the well we accept sort of publication of the model in good faith. You know, it's nice. and I'm happy to say that we got a letter on Monday saying that the models had been published and they were available on the web and the code is all available. There's some documentation describing, you know, on the NRCDs website, how the model is structured and parameterized, and it's gonna take us a little while to unpick everything that's been done because it's probably even more complicated than we imagined it would be and so we’ve got to look at this very seriously and decide to what extent we want to go into the detail because it's almost become a moot point. You know, if South Africa and if the South African epidemic peaks now and starts declining, then the model's done, you know, it's just you it's retired there's no coming back from that story.
And I don't know what government's going to do. I mean, they can't turn around and, you know, say, look…
CIARAN RYAN: Sorry, we've made a mistake. We'd like to revise the model, yeah it's too late for that. Yeah can I just pick up a point on that? Dawie Roodt the economist from the efficient group maybe a couple of months ago wrote an article saying that he reckoned from the lockdown itself. The economic consequences of the lockdown would result in 300,000 deaths and he based that on the Greek experience, post 2008, where poverty, and this is a pure economic modeling for every 1% drop in economic growth you get so many extra deaths as a result of malnutrition and various associated illnesses. Have you done any calculations like that? What do you expect the economic lockdown will result in terms of deaths in South Africa?
NICK HUDSON: Yeah, look, we did a very elementary calculation in that quantifying years of lost life paper that I referenced earlier and we took conservatism at every turn, trying to create a lockdown with the biggest possible benefit and the smallest possible cost. And we came to a number saying that it would cost in terms of years of life lost it would cost at least 30 times as much as it benefited. As I've said I find these tradeoffs kind of miss the point a little bit we were trying to just shift the narrative from this what is it very immature debate of lives versus money or lives versus economy. You know, that's not what it's about, you know, as I said, the economy mediates life. So it's always a lives versus lives question, right, there is no lives vs economy that's you stopping off way through the chain of events, you know, So yeah, we did have this estimate, but I mean, I just asked people to take it step back, you know, and look at the bigger picture.
Let's just stand away from the numbers that, is it, you know, 10,000 or 20,000, is it, you know, of deaths? Is it a 300,000 of deaths from lockdown? Let's step back. Let's step right back. Let's ask this question. We have a disease that is gonna produce mortality in this country, more or less in line with an average to slightly severe flu season. Okay it's not because of lockdown that the numbers came out that way that's how it's come out all over the world lockdown no lockdown. Okay, lockdown is not the cause of going from the 351,000 in the model to whatever we're going to get now, okay. The cause of that big gap was the model being a disaster. Okay. That model was just junk. Okay. So we got what was coming for us, which is this number of deaths, which is in line, with kind of like an average to above average flu season. When in the past have we done these extraordinary things, switched off life for half a year, you know, stop children from going to school. Yeah. Consigned millions to poverty and to incredible stress and strain for a disease tha whatever, you know, right depending on how you categorize it seventh, eighth, 10th scores of leading cause of death in South Africa, you know, there's three or four infectious diseases that will kill more people this year, you know, in South Africa and they kill more people every year, you know, and government never cared about that before. They'd allowed the hospitals to go into rack and ruin and to become overcrowded and plagued by corruption, then squalor. You know, this whole thing is bizarre what we have done and the long-term consequences that we have guaranteed the country in light of this fairly small epidemic is one of the craziest things any of us have ever seen in our lives.
CIARAN RYAN: And hopefully will ever see in our lives.
NICK HUDSON: I hope so Ciaran, because the way I see it, the way Panda see it is that we are witnessing the greatest social injustice in this country since apartheid.
CIARAN RYAN: Yeah. Just on that point there are understandable concerns that another virus may visit, that may befall us at some point in the future and our human rights will be squashed in a heartbeat. You know, that this is the concern is that this virus has been a pretext for just trampling, all sorts of rights. Are you concerned that this could happen on a more permanent basis?
NICK HUDSON: Yes. I mean, we have discussions around this at Panda and, I mean, I must correct something you said, right at the beginning of the program, that we're a bunch of actuaries. We are actually a minority actuary group, less than 10% of the group are actuaries there’s economists, data scientists, there are all sorts of people that are lawyers,
CIARAN RYAN: Yes I see you have got Russell Lamberty there, I apologize. Yes.
NICK HUDSON: No, that's fine. But yeah, Russell and I in particular well Russell and the group, we discussed this at length and the one thing Russell has persuaded me of and I think it's a very astute observation is he thinks that under no circumstances should lock down, ever be permitted. If there is a bad enough virus on the loose, you need to allow people to choose their own risk mitigation strategies right. And they will, if the bodies are piling up and the people are at risk, they will do whatever they can do and what they can do is a highly specific story. It's about each and every individual, you know, for some people, the options are greater than for others, but what we've done is we forced all people to do the same thing. And for that ivory tower, academic, who is recommending that the government maintain the lockdown. It's easy, he sits on a zoom carrying on earning his salary in the comfort of his home you know, no problem. So lock down and isolation and self-quarantine on a voluntary basis is plausible but for that person who doesn't have discretionary income. At some point, the evaluation is between facing the disease and starvation. That's the reality for the bulk of the world's population and I think there's something deeply wrong with denying such people agency and saying that look I want to stay at home and avoid the virus, but I want you to start and avoid the virus as well. You know, you also can't drive on the street, I'm selecting not to you also can't, you know. There's something fundamentally wrong with that and in principle, we at Panda have come to the conclusion that no, never should there be a lockdown. And we accept the arguments that that could result in a greater spread of the disease and therefore the people who want to avoid the disease have to be, have to self-quarantine for longer, et cetera, et cetera.
Well, you know, really is that the case even, isn't it faster to get to herd immunity and you want to duck out of it and self-quarantine, because you perceive yourself to be high risk. What you actually want is for the rest of your citizens to be out and about and picking this thing up, you know, taking their chances with this thing as quickly as possible so that the whole epidemic dies out. Right, and then I can go back outside and grow again, you know. So, we actually think this thing is a profound human rights violation that's gone on, on a global level. We've been gripped by an epidemic of panic, not an epidemic of coronavirus and, that the world needs to take stock and think about, you know, how are we going to handle these things in future. I would certainly suggest that the in principle considerations should be that lock downs shouldn’t happen and what has surprised me is that, that was in fact, the conclusion of the world health organization until 2019 and the conclusion of a great many of these epidemiologists who have been banging on about how everybody should lock down.
CIARAN RYAN: Just on that point, just talk to us about we are running out of time, we've just got a few minutes, but introduce us to Dr. Anthony Fauci, who runs the United States coronavirus taskforce, because he does seem to be calling the shots. I don't know if on a global scale and whether South Africa is taking the lead from them, but, there's a lot of controversy about this, this gentlemen, Dr. Anthony Fauci who is he?
NICK HUDSON: So he's a very respected scientist, highly regarded, you know, not very famous before, well, not as famous before all of this, but let me tell you something unbelievably strange about this man. In March, he published a paper on coronavirus along with two of his colleagues and in that paper, he basically spelt out everything that I've told you. He said here is a disease that affects mainly the very old and the very sick. It's not a disease that presents a real risk to healthy adults and it presents negligible risk to children. He said the total mortality burden will be in line with a seasonal flu, okay and there was a list of things that he got absolutely correct. I won't go through all of them and he was correct in March right. So everything that I've been telling you here he predicted, which I think is quite remarkable, the sign of a very intelligent person because he got it right early. Right. It's easier when you can just look at what's happened and make these conclusions, but it's quite hard to do it when you're sitting in early March and it's been a constant source of fascination for me to, then watch this man on the television, lapping up every minute of fearmongering that he's going on about, you know, he's enjoying it. There's something about the light and the camera that, appeals to this man. I want to actually consult with a psychologist about this and ask, you know, what's what's going on here?
You know, you've got this person who, pulled off this amazing intellectual stunt of actually predicting the course of an epidemic really early on in the game and he's turned into the biggest panic porn artist in the world and he's famous for it. You know, I find it like one of the strangest and most macarbe aspects of this whole epidemic.
CIARAN RYAN: Okay wow, we've covered a lot of ground this is fascinating stuff. I think that the one observation I would make is that you know, you can almost pick your scientist. This is what I've been observing in that you can, you know, if you're in favor of greater state control of your health, and it just reminds me of a book that was written by the psychiatrist by the name of Dr. Thomas Szasz he wrote a book called the myth of mental illness back in 1960 and he coined this term called the therapeutic state and he said, the state is basically going to take control of your body. You know, they're going to designate you, he’s talking about mental illness as being, there being no basis in science for it. So it's really become like, you know, a committee decision, whether you're mentally ill or not, then they're going to come up with illnesses and they do all the time. So this is an extremely prescient book that was written 60 years ago, 70 years ago. Sorry, 60 years ago.
NICK HUDSON: I can go along with that a little bit, I mean, I'm a person who would rather read George Elliot and Jane Austin, and a Dostoevsky to get an insight into the human mind, than read Freud, you know. So I kind of go along with that and, yes, I think we have the therapeutic state. That's a very interesting concept, I've never heard it.
CIARAN RYAN: Yeah so you no longer have, and of course it's coming by increments continually, and you know, you now have a mental illness and now you have a virus and so you basically lose control of your body, which was basically the temple over which you had dominion throughout, the ages and it has been the great fight of liberty, I think, through the centuries. Is, you know, I want to control my own body and my own thoughts and that has been eroded. That's what I see here and if you, you're talking about this fear porn that that's going on at the moment. Well, what, what is that doing? That, that is driving people into fear so that they are going to surrender those basic rights that our ancestors fought for and I think that's criminal.
NICK HUDSON: Yes, I do as well. I think it is just a fundamental abnegation of the value of human beings to try and control them by fear. And I don't care whether you're doing that on a one to one on basis or on a one to the masses basis, I think it's fundamentally wrong, okay. And that is, I think how a lot of these epidemiologists think they think, you know, the stupid muppets, if I don't give them, if I don't show them a big enough threat, none of them are gonna do these things that we think are sensible, you know, nevermind the cost of those things. And so they do try and operate in the basis of trying to shake people into action and you can see the logic of that, but I cannot see the morality of it. So my view would be you're a hundred percent right in that observation and your Hungarian or whatever nationality he is, author in the 1960s, had something to say, and I'm curious to read up about him, but there's something deeper and it goes further back and I think it plugs into a lot of spirit of the time stuff that's been with us in recent decades. There's this idea there are memes like, helicopter parenting, nanny state, safe spaces, identity politics, your oppression Olympics, victim status. All of this stuff is philosophy that takes away human agency, you know, and if you educate a whole generation to believe that they have no agency and that they are victims of circumstance or somebody else's oppressive actions, I think you make fertile ground for a fear mongerer to manipulate them and that's exactly what's happened here.
CIARAN RYAN: Right, well Nick I want to thank you for the work that you're doing and it really is valuable and it's important, it really does need to be discussed. You know, you cannot have these views being silenced or, or pushed away or shouted down by, you know, a particular group, which has a political agenda and I think a lot of this stuff has, there's a political angle to it. There's a pitch and I think what you've done is really kind of you’ve blown open something with just pure facts. You know, I, I can see that you you've gone to the trouble, I guess, on a volunteer basis. You're not getting paid for any of this you're just doing this because it has to be done.
NICK HUDSON: All of the people at Panda are volunteers who have day jobs and pretty intense day jobs at that because you know, amid a lockdown, nothing is easy, so yes, that's true and we do appreciate you giving us this chance to have this conversation and you know, to access a few more people with the work we've been doing, because you know, our interests here are purely in favor of the citizens of our country and the future of our country, which we think is under dramatic threat right now. So thank you, I've enjoyed the conversation thoroughly. I'll do it any time and, hope that you, you know, carry on, you know, getting the message out, whether it's ours or other people who might be saying, less fearful things.
CIARAN RYAN: Okay. All right, Nick, we will check in with you again, because this is, the only story of the age. So, again, thanks very much for coming on and talk to us and I think this is valuable information for accountants and chief financial officers and finance executives, because of the people that I'm speaking to, despite what is being said in public, privately, think the same way that you do.
NICK HUDSON: Hmm, that's interesting.
CIARAN RYAN: I don't know if you've noticed that from your interactions with people
NICK HUDSON: Occasionally. I mean, overall, I found that the corporate sector has been very quiet, very reluctant to rock a boat and they've kind of, I think they're relying on methods that worked 15 years ago in terms of how they manage themselves around the government and they're finding out now the very hard way that those methods no longer work.
CIARAN RYAN: All right, Nick. Great work and we'll stay in touch. Thanks again for coming on to talk to us.
NICK HUDSON: Alright, go well, have a nice weekend when you get to it, Cheers
CIARAN RYAN: Cheers, bye.
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