Momento Mori – Unpopular Thoughts on Corona Virus 672

I have always been very fond of this photo, for reasons which are perhaps obvious. We are left to right Celia, Stuart, Neil, Craig and throughout our childhood we really were that close and that happy. The reason that I post this now is that my mother always told me she was amazed how good we looked in the photo, because it was taken when we were all off school sick with Hong Kong flu.

The Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968/9 was the last really serious flu pandemic to sweep the UK. They do seem extraordinarily regular – 1919, 1969 and 2020. Flu epidemics have much better punctuality than the trains (though I cheated a bit there and left out the 1958 “Asian flu”). Nowadays “Hong Kong flu” is known as H3N2. Estimates for deaths it caused worldwide vary from 1 to 4 million. In the UK it killed an estimated 80,000 people.

If the current coronavirus had appeared in 1968, it would simply have been called “flu”, probably “Wuhan flu”. COVID-19 may not be nowadays classified as such, but in my youth flu is definitely what we would have called it. The Hong Kong flu was very similar to the current outbreak in being extremely contagious but with a fairly low mortality rate. 30% of the UK population is estimated to have been infected in the Hong Kong flu pandemic. The death rate was about 0.5%, mostly elderly or with underlying health conditions.

But there was no massive panic, no second by second media hysteria, over Hong Kong flu. Let me start being unpopular. “Man in his 80’s already not very well from previous conditions, dies of flu” is not and should not be a news headline. The coverage is prurient, intrusive, unbalanced and designed to cause hysteria.

Consider this: 100% of those who contract coronavirus are going to die. 100% of those who do not contract coronavirus are also going to die. The difference in average life expectancy between the two groups will prove to be only very marginal. That is because the large majority of those who die of COVID-19 will already be nearing the end of life or have other health problems.

Let me make this important statement. I write as somebody whose heart and lungs are damaged and in poor condition, following the multiple bilateral pulmonary emboli which nearly killed me in 2004, which mysteriously appeared at precisely the time the UK and US governments were desperately trying to get rid of me as Ambassador, just a couple of weeks after I had been finally cleared of all the false charges with which the British government had attempted to fit me up. I was in a coma for days and subsequently given a maximum of three years to live (read Murder in Samarkand for the full story). If I get COVID-19 I expect I shall be fairly quickly gone off on my next adventure.

But I am OK with that. I have lived an incredibly full and satisfying life. I have no desire whatsoever to die – I have a wife and children I love deeply and I have important political battles I wish to fight. But human beings are not supposed to live forever and one day my time will come.

What worries me about the current reaction to coronavirus, is that it seems to reflect a belief that death is an aberration, rather than a part of the natural order of things. As the human species continues to expand massively in numbers, and as it continues casually to make other species extinct, it is inevitable that the excessive and crowded human population will become susceptible to disease.

As we see the catastrophic effects of human beings on the environment, including on other species and the climate, I am genuinely perplexed as to what are the underlying assumptions and goals of humankind. Do we really believe that medical science could and should eliminate all disease? There are numerous, well-funded medical scientists working very hard on research into the idea that ageing itself is a process that can be prevented. Because that is a notion very attractive to wealthy westerners, more money is being spent on preventing ageing than on fighting malaria and other tropical diseases. Where does this end? Do we really want a world – or at least a wealthy word – where everybody gets to be a centenarian? What are the effects of that on overall population, on demographics, economics and the allocation of finite resources including food and housing?

The mass hysteria around the current coronavirus is being driven by a societal rejection of the notion that the human species is part of the wider ecology, and that death and disease are unavoidable facts, with which it ought to be part of the human condition to come to terms. Let me offer a comforting thought to those of you who have bought into the hysteria. I have no doubt whatsoever that mortality rates from the coronavirus are being exaggerated. They are all based on extrapolation from those who have been tested, but there exists a very large population of people, worldwide, who have or have had the coronavirus, whose symptoms have been those of a cold or non-existent, who have not put themselves forward for testing. The Hong Kong flu had a mortality rate of 0.5% and I believe that ultimately COVID-19 will prove to be very similar. Just like flu once you get it, the only difference being it is more contagious so more people will get it.

Yes wash your hands, bin your tissues, keep things clean. Don’t hang around someone who has the flu. Take advantage of everything modern medicine can do to help you. But don’t be too shocked at the idea that some sick people die, especially if they are old. We are not Gods, we are mortal. We need to reconnect to that idea.

All human deaths are individual tragedies. I wish all solace and comfort to the grieving, and in no way wish to minimise the pain of individual loss of anybody of any age (I lost my own mother not long ago), or that even a small number of child deaths in particular will be dreadfully painful. My deepest and heartfelt condolences go to all the bereaved, and my warm regards go to all the sick and the worried. But the perspective of the wider place of human life in the cosmos is a help in grieving. The purpose of this blog remains not to shirk from saying what might be unpopular. I do hope people will start to consider COVID-19 in a more measured way.


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672 thoughts on “Momento Mori – Unpopular Thoughts on Corona Virus

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    • Antonym

      March 27th: both prime minister Boris Johnson and his health secretary Matt Hancock have tested positive for coronavirus.

  • michael norton

    The richest person in the United Kingdom, Jim Ratcliffe to build new factory in ten days to make hand-sanitiser

    British chemical company Ineos announced it would build the plant in Middlesbrough and that hand sanitiser produced at the factory would be distributed across the U.K. and Europe.

    So far in the U.K. there have been 335 deaths from the coronavirus and 6,650 confirmed cases.

  • michael norton

    Incredibly long queues at the dole offices

    New claimants, many of them self-employed and facing a dramatic fall in income, took to social media to highlight the problems.

    One user posted a screenshot on Twitter of their application which said that “due to an incredible volume of new users,” there were 105,563 people ahead of them in an online queue to verify their identity, a basic requirement of applying for any benefit.

    As our government have shut down the economy hundreds of thousands are without an income.

  • michael norton

    The Prince of Wales has tested positive for coronavirus, Clarence House has announced.

    Prince Charles is 71 but in otherwise good health

    I would guess hundreds of thousands, in reality, already have it or have had it in
    the United Kingdom.

  • michael norton

    A spokeswoman for the Who
    says 85% of coronavirus cases reported over the past 24 hours have been in Europe and the United States

      • michael norton

        United States of America, now World Leader, way ahead of China, more than 1/2 million cases of covid-19
        and more than 20,000 deaths.

  • susanne Rossnagel

    Nature at it’s best doing it’s thing. A virus designed for one purpose only, find a host, if not it remains dormant but always there lurking. Who cares about the emotional or political drama, the virus doesn’t care what you people think, and the out come will slowly fade either by human intervention or simply mutate into a weaker version.
    The point. Solutions. Not about this virus, because there will be a next one. Maybe we deal with reality, Stephen Hawking pointed out the directions, get off this planet and the chances of survival goes up to 100%, build Smart cities, Robotics, building for the future generations.
    What does it matter if people overreacts or does not take this virus seriously. Brings down a government or unites them, your talking about the what if’s, or asteroid hits the earth, there will always be an emotional or political impact regarding nature doing it’s thing. Which nobody can control, like earthquakes, wind, flood damage. Your last paragraph “My deepest and heartfelt condolences go to all the bereaved, and my warm regards go to all the sick and the worried”. is the same : Nothing but feelings, why even put it in?
    A “beautiful mind” is a shame to waste, think of the solutions, and let the world play as-is.

  • Tony M

    I know this is a lot of links, likely to be caught in the spam trap, but found these somewhere else, they’re good, but chilling.
    Not conspiratorial stuff but top medics, able to communicate their enthusiasm and expertise to lay-persons.

    podcast links:

    and if you don’t like to listen but read, then here are transcripts:

    this is a prequel of sorts to the material above and below:

    Comment of my own would be superfluous.

  • michael norton

    3287 deaths in China
    7503 deaths in Italy
    3647 deaths in Spain

    so both Italy and Spain have had more deaths than China

  • Tony M

    I think the comment I posted last night, despite the several links, should be allowed, it is important information, from some of the top doctors in this field, with international reputations, it could save lives. It is basically experts talking amongst themselves, but trying to keep it comprehensible to a wider lay-person audience.

    I’d like to add that the self-employed making claims for support through this should definitely not over-claim or exaggerate their earnings, or take their best week’s income, rather take their worst, what they claim as their income will in future be used to determine their past and future liability for tax. It will come back to haunt them. HMRC never sleeps, remember Death and Taxes!

  • michael norton

    RAF Hullavington

    Mister Dyson is no longer going to make electric cars at the airfield in Wiltshire, he is going to be making 15,000 ventilators.
    10,000 for NHS, most of the rest for export

  • Latore Lapis.

    Dashed bad luck catching a bad form of the flu, just as things were turning the corner for you back in 2004. I see Salmond weathered the storm fairly well. Best wishes to you all. I really like Scotland, independent or not. I hope you all fare well.

  • michael norton

    I China
    Outside of Hubei Province, only four other provinces have more than a thousand incidents.
    Yet in
    Italy, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Norway, Sweden, France U.K
    all have vastly more than a thousand each.

    Tibet, still has only recorded one victim.
    It makes you think.
    U.K. now more victims than South Korea.

  • Terence Wallis

    Thank you Mr. Murray, for a clear, logical, and convincing article. Having written that I think I could have just written cogent……so I will !

  • michael norton

    It is quite amazing that what used to be termed Western Europe is experiencing much more covid-19 disease that what used to be termed Eastern Euope.
    Italy, Portugal, Spain, France, Ireland, U.K., Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland Austria, Norway, Sweden and Denmark
    all have it bad.

    I wonder why?

    • Antonym

      No borders, no checks, the more the merrier – the EU mantra, more “refugees”, freedom! , much more internal West European air flights.

  • Tim Willis

    Can you advise where you acquired that PA Graphic image quoting 80,000 estimated deaths in 1968?.

    I’m asking this as I have been unable to find its source or any reference to the data that it refers to?.


  • michael norton

    I.687% of the Italian population are now reported as having or has covid-19

    • michael norton

      Turkey is the one to watch, from not having reported a single case, a week ago, yesterday they claimed = 13531 cases of covid-19

      They share a border with Iran.

      • michael norton

        Turkey now has 21,000 cases of covid-19.
        Turkey shares a border with Iran who have recorded 55,700 cases
        but other countries near Turkey have recorded, very few cases,
        Syria = 16, Lebanon = 520, Iraq = 820, Greece = 1,600, Cyprus = 396, Kuwait = 400, Egypt = 985, Jordan = 310

        So, a question could be
        why is it taking off so fast in Turkey, is it just transmission through the border with Iran,
        or is it because of policies the Erdogan Regime are enacting?

  • M Le Docteur Ralph


    I think the numbers support your argument.

    First you need to compare like with like. In 1968 the population of the UK was approximately 55 million, it is currently around 66.5 million, so 78,000 deaths due to Hong Kong flu in 1968 would be the equivalent of around 94,000 deaths for the current population (of course given the fact that the average age in 1968 was 72 and it is now over 80 the adjusted Hong Kong flu figures for the current population should be even greater but I am not a statistician).

    The Diamond Princess is probably the best statistical sample as they tested practically the entire ship and the testing revealed that over half of the people infected showed no symptoms:

    If you look at the Diamond Princess overall statistics, you arrive at a crude mortality rate of 0.3% and a case fatality rate of 1.7%.

    Total number of
    Passengers & Crew


    % Infected

    Infected showing
    no symptoms

    % infected showing
    no symptoms


    Crude Mortality










    If you apply that crude mortality rate of 0.3% to the latest estimate I could find from the ONS for the UK’s total population of 66.4 million your arrive at an expected number of deaths from Covid 19 of 200,000 people.

    However, you also need to adjust for age. If you look at the Italian statistics you will see that the thing about this disease is that essentially you have to be over 60 and already sick to die of it.

    In Italy, only 5% of the 16,654 deaths were people under the age of 60, half of whom were in the 50 to 59 age group. Furthermore, in their statistical sample only 3% of all patients (including those over 60) did not have a co-morbidity.

    Again taking the Diamond Princess cruise ship as an effective statistical sample and separating out the passengers and crew you get the following statistics:


    Average age

    Total Number


    % infected


    Crude Mortality


















    If you take the higher passenger crude mortality rate of 0.5% for the passengers and apply it to the over 60 population in the UK of 15,838,666 you get an expected number of deaths from Covid 19 of 71,292.

    So you end up with a number for the UK that is both less than the absolute number of deaths for Hong Kong flu in 1968 (78,000) and is some 15% less than the number of deaths for Hong Kong flu as adjusted for the current population (94,000).

    • michael norton

      Ralph, how very interesting, thank you.

      I had been thinking that there are at least two ways of looking at deaths from covid-19.
      Those deaths from fit younger people.
      Those deaths from older, unfit people.
      And yes, I do think you would come up with totally different mortalities.

      How could this be reconcilled?

  • Mr Cabbage

    I agree with everything you say. I also think that overpopulation and habitat destruction are far more serious than climate change. But once the coronavirus hysteria is over, and it will be soon because the disease is no worse than flu, then the media will go back to climate change hysteria.

    • michael norton

      The U.K. has today announced 450 more coronavirus deaths – the fewest number for a fortnight.
      Sounds like we might be over the worse
      It comes after a leading expert today argued Britain’s coronavirus outbreak peaked a week before lockdown and the draconian measures were unnecessary.

      Carl Heneghan, professor of evidence-based medicine at Oxford University, claims data shows infection rates halved after the Government launched a hand-washing drive and recommend people keep two metres apart on March 16.

      He said ministers ‘lost sight’ of the evidence and rushed into a nationwide quarantine six days later after being instructed by scientific advisers who have been ‘consistently wrong’ during the crisis.

      • Kempe

        Easy to be wise after the event. I don’t remember Professor Heneghan or anybody else saying this at the time.

  • michael norton

    Anyone think it strange that Europe is doing so many times worse than China, where is at began?

    Belgium has had more deaths from covid-19, than has China.
    There are less than twelve million people living in Belgium.
    There are more than 1.4 billion people living in China.
    Strange that China has done so well, and Belgium does so bad.
    The explanation I can come up with is,
    something very fishy in China.
    U.K. has also been accused of under-reporting covid-19 deaths by forty percent.

  • michael norton

    The chief economist at the Scottish government says that the current lockdown-restrictions are cutting output from the economy by a third.

    In his latest ‘State of the economy’ update, Gary Gillespie says Covid-19 has now become an Economic Crisis.

    Dr. Gillespie warned that sustained action to squash the spread of infection will have long-lasting “scarring” effects on the economy.

    These will include the loss of businesses and unemployment, he said.

    Also, it is easy to understand with Brent Crude valued at under $20/barrel, no new fields will be opened, probably – ever.
    We are moving away from oil.

    • Kempe

      Operating margins in the North Sea have been described as ‘paper thin’ and 4,000 jobs have already been shed, jobs which are most likely gone forever. Norway is having to raid it’s pension fund to make up the 30% shortfall caused by the collapse in Brent Crude.

      Never mind no new fields, you have to wonder how much longer the existing ones have.

  • michael norton

    The U.K. benchmark for oil has fallen by more than 10% to around $16 (£13) a barrel.
    “I suspect that when the lockdown comes to an end, coronavirus is beaten and driving starts to return to normal, questions will be asked about the fairness of pump prices during the great oil crash of 2020.”

    Questions will also be asked, is the North Sea still profitable?

    • michael norton

      The U.K. is going to be a financial basket case, after this covid-19 pandemic has run it time.
      The Oil extraction industry will be on its knees, High Streets will be on their knees, airlines and airports will be on their knees, the car manufactures will be on their knees. Foreign holiday firms will be in the shit as well as the cruise industry.
      I suppose the farming Industry and Fishing Industry and Timber Industries will be alright
      but millions will be joining the dole queue.

      • michael norton

        House building will be on its knees, as few will know how their economic future will pan out plus it will be quite difficult to get a mortgage, without a job and
        without three years of proof of earnings. Commercial property rents will collapse.
        Aircraft manufacture will either die or almost die.
        Pubs, restaurants, gyms and pools will cease trading.
        We are expected to have 6,000,000 on the dole before the Autumn, just in the U.K.
        but the E.U. will do no better.

        No Deal looms as talks founder during covid-19 Lock-Down.

  • Peter Thompson

    I am reading your commentary 6 weeks after it was written and agree 100 % with it. You are amazingly accurate on the case fatality ratio as well . Governor Cuomo of New York says now that after doing antibody studies studies he is surprised to find its CFR is 0.3-0.5 % akin to a severe flu. I remember Hong Kong Flu as I had it and so did my grandfather who died with it. Back in the 60s it was not a world changing event. In my small town in England with 24,000 people over the last 2 months one very frail elderly man has died of covid19t. He had carers 3 x a day, who probably transmitted it to him .

    • Kempe

      The governor did indicate two caveats. One is that the official state death count only indicates deaths that happened in a hospital or a nursing home, and does not include coronavirus-related deaths that occurred at home, which means that the real death count is likely higher than the official number. The other caveat is that the data from the antibody testing is only preliminary.

      Antibody tests have not been immune to controversy, however. In the rush to get antibody tests on the market their accuracy has been called into question, with fears of a high number of false positives. The World Health Organization (WHO) said last week that there is no evidence that antibody testing indicates that a person is immune to the disease.

      • Peter Thompson

        Indeed we should always give credence to the WHO which assured us in January that there was no evidence of human to human spread of the coronavirus . The WHO also attacked flight bans as part of a containment strategy . I think that body has lost all credibility. Antibody and antigen tests are indeed not immune to controversy and there are fears of false positives and FALSE NEGATIVES ( you forgot that ) . As for Governor Cuomo whose sister in law recommends bathing in bleach to cure coronavirus his results are indeed provisional and he hasn’t published the percentage of indeterminate either , However we can see from many other testing results including Iceland that the WHO s original CFR of 3 % is absolute nonsense.

        • michael norton

          America believes that China has collaborated with the WHO to pull the wool over the Eyes of Five Eyes.

  • michael norton

    The situation in a Belarus orphanage for children with developmental disabilities is “extremely critical” after at least 23 people contracted COVID-19, a charity has warned.

    The orphanage in Vesnova, some 175 kms from Chernobyl, cares for 174 children and young adults with genetic disorders, severe disabilities and compromised immune systems. It is supported by Adi Roche Chernobyl Children, an Irish NGO.

    Nobody has mentioned Mental Hospitals, or orphangaes in Britain, yet?

  • michael norton

    Wuhan’s L-strain may be behind Gujarat’s high death rate.
    The dominance of the more virulent L-type coronavirus strain as compared to the S-type one could be behind the high mortality rate in the state, which has reported 133 deaths so far. However, no research has been conducted to confirm this. Analysis done by scientists abroad has shown that the L-type strain has been dominant where more mortality is reported among coronavirus patient ..

    The Gujarat government will administer Ayurvedic medicines to 75 asymptomatic COVID-19 patients in hotspot Ahmedabad to see the “time duration of their recovery” as a part of a AYUSH treatment study, a state Health department official said today.
    Principal Secretary (Health) Jayanti Ravi said the state AYUSH department had distributed an Ayurvedic medicine free-of-cost to over 1.26 crore people in Gujarat with an aim to boost their immunity.

    “As many as 7,778 people under quarantine were given the Ayurvedic medicine, and only 21 out of them tested positive for coronavirus,” the bureaucrat said.

    Ahmedabad has reported a rapid spread of coronavirus and a mortality rate at 4.71 per cent which is higher than the national average, as per the state government.

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