Friday, June 26, 2020

Coronavirus 36

Today's UK Covid deaths reported by the government is 186, the highest for 10 days, bringing the last 7 day average to 121 per day.

We are still uncertain about the infection fatality rate (IFR) but it seems likely to be between 0.5 and 1%.

At 1% a daily death count around 120 implies that three or so weeks ago the number of new infections must have been running at around 12000. Double that for an IFR of 0.5%.

The number of new cases being reported by the government around early June was between 1500 and 2000, perhaps an order of magnitude lower that the figure implied by the recent death rate.

Now we've known all along that the reported case numbers are too low - not all get tested, many are asymptomatic, but an order of magnitude too low? That's quite some under-reporting.

Earlier this week the government reported that 5.4% of the population were found to be with antibodies, the implication being that these people had had the disease.
Reported cases stand at just over 300,000.
5.4% of the population is about 3.5 million. So that's an order of magnitude greater than the reported number of cases.
That really is quite some under-reporting.

Meanwhile the number of daily COVID deaths in New Zealand continues to average zero. But they did things differently there, The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, followed the advice of Michael Baker, Professor of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington.

Jacinda Ardern thought taking his advice was worth a punt as it avoided people dying, in stark contrast to the UK's Prime Minister's idea of 'taking it on the chin', which has cost over 65,000 lives so far and a likelihood that the pandemic will be with us for many months to come with the inevitable daily death toll.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Coronavirus 35

Of course the 2m rule was always a bit silly. If you are on the upwind side 1m is fine. But if you are the downwind person, make it 10 metres. It is a political rather than scientific rule, politics being the art of the possible, science being the endeavour to constrain uncertainty.

In some nations, notably New Zealand and Vietnam, the policy from the outset was to prevent all deaths. The UK Government set out on a very different course with its 'taking it on the chin', 'herd immunity', 'flattening the curve', 'protecting the NHS'. The result has been catastrophic.

Whether there is a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and a lot more deaths follow or whether the outbreak continues its decline and the rate of that decline, depends on our behaviour, each and every one of us. Our actions will cause or save more deaths.  Anything that allows an increases in the spread of the virus results in more deaths. This is the vital fact that should confront every person encouraging easing of lockdown policy and relaxing their personal actions.

Today, in the face of the UK Government's imminent likely further easing of restrictions Independent SAGE has released this statement:

In the absence of a scientific basis for Government policy, we the people have to act on the basis of the science, rather than according to the Government's advice. Our individual actions will determine whether the pandemic is long and drawn out with many more deaths and injuries, or whether the virus is swiftly eliminated.

It is a heavy responsibility that cannot be left to government but must be born by us, each and every one of us.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Coronavirus 34

New Zealand's success in eliminating COVID-19 is significant. It shows that Jacinda Ardern's determination to make the prevention of any deaths the highest priority was correct. It worked. And the example of Vietnam shows that it was not being a remote island with a small population of low density and high wealth that was the significant factor.

But the really important lesson is that, given the right policies, the pandemic will end. I discussed earlier how the R value allows us to see just how rapidly the virus dies out and how many people die before that happens. The UK's failure has been to have the wrong goals: 'smooth the curve', 'save the NHS', 'avoid a second peak'. The goal should have been, right from the start but also from today, to prevent all deaths.

Yet today we still have the idea that the disease will be with us for a long time, 'until we get a vaccine', and the task is to 'manage the outbreak so the health services are not overwhelmed'. This is the attitude that has already cost over 60,000 lives and will cost many more if it persists. 

The New Zealand lesson is that suppression, isolation and elimination works. We have lost three months and destroyed so many lives but the economists' water under the bridge or sunk costs ideas apply here. We are where we are. Never mind the past, we have to put in place the right policies now. That way lives are saved and the disease will pass.

Currently the UK government seems determined to do the opposite. The consequence will be that more people will die and the disease will persist indefinitely. The Prime Minister and his government and advisers are culpable.