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Did we do this to ourselves?

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We have now seen two Bermuda lawyers congratulate the Bermuda Government on the good sense of the declaration of the state of emergency under section 14 of our constitution.

Statements of this kind always require a good deal of thought before government suspension of the Constitution is given two thumbs up. In the same article Mark Diel points out that the declaration was entirely unnecessary. Not least because such powers are more often than not misused, and these powers have no discernible end in sight.

It is always necessary to establish whether the conditions necessary to make such a declaration have occurred. The only information provided to the citizen before the making of the declaration by the Governor were the figures provided by the Government at its daily news love-in, which itself is inadequate in any modern democracy.

The Minister of Health, while always very well spoken and deferential to the Premier, is so woefully underprepared that on one occasion she announced confidently that you weren't contagious until you were showing symptoms. A remarkable misstatement when 60 per cent are symptom-free and all of them are contagious.

The last time there was such a declaration, it was when the island was ablaze — there were daily riots in the streets and that indiscriminate violence resulted in at least one tragic and unnecessary death. The final straw was the wanton destruction of Bermuda's stockpile of rum at the Gosling's warehouse.

We could be expected to withstand only so much, I suppose, but destroying the rum was a step too far. The same might have happened had the stock of mayonnaise been threatened.

The justification for the suspension of the Constitution this time round is the prevention of the “deadly exponential spread” of the Sars-CoV-2 virus, to give it its proper name. On the day the emergency was declared, the number of infected people was 35 and there were approximately 20 who had recovered or died. There were therefore 15 infecteds.

In the few days leading up to the declaration, the figure had been effectively stable. In the week after the declaration, that number increased by another four. Until a few days ago, the Government was testing only those with significant symptoms of the disease. The highest rate came on April 9 with the announcement of nine.

The source of the disease was passengers arriving on various flights. Patient 1 came from Miami on March 2 and the next few patients came in on other flights, particularly British Airways.

They were supposed to quarantine themselves, but they didn't and the young carefree, happy-clappy people could be seen enjoying themselves in the bars and clubs of Bermuda nightly. Just as the writer would have done at their age.

Pierre-Simon Laplace, an 18th-century French mathematician, provided a mathematical justification for reaching conclusions of future, or even present, hypotheses. He was a tester of truth.

Maths is not everyone's cup of tea, so I will not bore with the details. In fact, it seems no one asked themselves why only 10 per cent of the people with symptoms tested negative?

That is where Bayes' Theorem comes in.

Introduced by English mathematician and theologian Thomas Bayes, and improved on by Laplace, here is how it works:

Our problem is that we need to assess the likelihood that the negative results received at the hospital were genuine negatives, rather than false negatives.

It is stated mathematically as:

P(A/B) = P(B/A)P(A)



Its most useful application is in drug-testing and, yes, that's right, the prediction of disease, particularly cancer. In this case, we are testing — until quite recently — only those people who are showing significant symptoms of Covid-19, and are thus more likely than not to be infected with the virus Sars-CoV-2.

Bayes' Theorem tells you that there must have been dozens, possibly much more than 100, of infected people sent back into the community with no idea where they got it — no tracing, no quarantine, nothing.

If you were told that 100 junkies had taken a drug test but only 10 per cent were positive, you would think the test was broken. That is Bayes' Theorem at work. If 100 people with symptoms of syphilis are tested and only 10 per cent are positive, again you would ask yourself questions.

Why are we then satisfied if 300 people have a test and only 29 of them test positive, which was the case before the declaration — all with symptoms. Why are we convinced the negative rate was correct? The negatives were not followed up at all and no test is 100 per cent accurate.

By way of example, we were told the number of infecteds was declining, the rate of infection was declining, and the number of recoveries was increasing faster than the number of infecteds was increasing. Thus, the now famous Ro was less than one.

The British Government is using a model produced by Neil Ferguson at Imperial College, London. It is particularly pessimistic and has, indeed, been much criticised by those who know what they are talking about. Much more than me. However, it uses the same model mechanism as everyone else. It is only the assumptions that change.

The modelling systems that are used are known as SIR models — S for susceptible, which is those people capable of contracting the disease; I is for infecteds, that is those people who are suffering from the disease or are capable of transmitting it to the susceptibles; R is for removed, these are the people who are now either immune or dead and are not able to catch the disease.

These expressions are all defined by derivative equations over time. To give one example, we can express changes in susceptibles over time — the D is always used to denote a difference in value. That difference is expressed thus, DS/Dt = -RSI (“r” is the rate of contact between the susceptibles and the infected) and the number of susceptibles will go down over time as the infecteds go up. It is that number “r”, the rate of contact between the susceptibles and the infecteds, that we are trying to drive down with the lock-in.

There are such equations for each term, the most important of course is the difference in infecteds over time, which will be expressed in exactly the same way, DI/Dt = RSI -Ar (where “a” is the rate at which infecteds turn into removeds). So to find how many people are infected at any point in time, you have to subtract the people that got better or died.

After a few steps, you can get a value for “r”. That number has become known as Ro and there are lots of steps to get there. For those interested we all have lots of time to surf the internet and improve our rate of change calculus. That number in Bermuda is and always has been less than 1.

We are lawyers. We don't give opinions on the basis of no information. We fight for the information to be provided. However, on the basis of the information that we have been provided, there was no justification for the suspension of constitutional rights that were so hard won by the individuals upon whose shoulders the present government stands — at least not on my understanding of the maths.

If the Government has different maths, and this is my precise point, it should show it to us, tell us what it means and prepare us for whatever is coming, just like every other democratic government has done. Do we wish to model ourselves on Hungary?

Lawyers are the people in our society who have sworn oaths to protect people from the unjustified use of state power. We are not epidemiologists; nor are we mathematicians. We are advocates for the people who need us most.

The courts are effectively closed, freedom of assembly has been revoked, freedom of movement has joined it and we know not what is coming next — all this with no end date. I expect we will be forbidden from using Facebook or Twitter if we say anything bad.

The positive tests that we will see now are from people who caught it from people who caught it from the flight arrivals. Almost 90 per cent of the people showing symptoms for the two weeks that followed the arrival of those flights were sent home from hospital and told they could live their life as they pleased.

That is 90 per cent of the people suffering from Covid-19 symptoms — who may have caught, and probably did catch, the disease from people coming off those flights in the bars and clubs of Hamilton — either had some other disease or were infecting a whole new batch of people who are showing up now with Sars-CoV-2.

Bayes' Theorem is what tells you which is more likely. The answer should be obvious.

Shame on you all. The biggest finger wag should be reserved for the Opposition. You get paid to question government policy. On your performance so far, you don't deserve our vote or our money for your salary.

On the basis of what we have been told, there is not a single epidemiologist anywhere that would confirm the existence of an exponential, self-sustaining epidemic in Bermuda on the day the emergency was declared. They would say only that it was necessary and true if we now have good reason to believe that a load of Covid-19 sufferers were released into the community like little human time bombs.

Someone should have asked why our rates were so low.

Our news reporters need to stop asking questions about toilet paper and where a particular tragic victim lived, and concentrate on what counts. Are we all going to get sick because our government got it wrong? It is time to start holding the self-satisfied readers of notes to account. We deserve better from all of you.

I do not doubt a lock-in is necessary, but I do doubt that they have told us why. That is not how a western democracy works. We need to see the models and be treated with the respect that citizens deserve.

Cameron Hill is self-employed Bermudian lawyer who possesses an undergraduate degree in Applied Mathematics/Econometrics and a master's degree in European social policy. He was admitted to the bar in London in 1996 and in Bermuda in 1999, and in Scotland, where he still practises, specialising in insolvency law at the Court of Session

Woefully underprepared: Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, has received plaudits generally for her performance during the Covid-19 pandemic, but not in all places (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Cameron Hill is self-employed Bermudian lawyer who possesses an undergraduate degree in Applied Mathematics/Econometrics and a master's degree in European social policy. He was admitted to the bar in London in 1996 and in Bermuda in 1999, and in Scotland, where he still practises, specialising in insolvency law at the Court of Session

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Published April 13, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated April 13, 2020 at 8:26 am)

Did we do this to ourselves?

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