Is the Pandemic on the wane ?

Last weekend, there were no new deaths from coronavirus in London, Scotland or Northern Ireland, and the number of hospitalisations and deaths are slowly  reducing across the UK, with the overall death rate approaching normal mortality.

This week’s figures from the ONS show the overall death total in the UK for the week to 29 May has fallen again, and is now approaching the normal range for the time of year.

Chart showing death registrations shows weekly total up to 29 May is close to normal range

The government is anxious to relax lockdown restrictions,  and is even considering reducing social distancing from two metres to one metre to support economic viability the hospitality industry if and when it re-opens on July.

Throughout the pandemic, there has been a huge discrepancy in the views of scientists and epidemiologists. This is based on the fact that  Covid-19 is either :

  • a deadly disease that only a small fraction of our populations have so far been exposed to,
  • a much milder disease that a large percentage of people have already been exposed, and is already on its way out.

If Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College is the figurehead for the first opinion (the worst case scenario), then Sunetra Gupta, Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at the University of Oxford, is the representative of the second opinion. Her group at Oxford produced a rival model to Ferguson’s back in March which speculated that as much as 50% of the population may already have been infected and the true Infection Fatality Rate may be as low as 0.1%. Based on my recent projections, this range is now between 60% -74%.  (see recent blog post).

Scientists on the SAGE committee are now beginning to break ranks, with Professor Neil Ferguson from stating recently that deaths could have been reduced by 20,000 if the UK had locked down a week earlier, and Professor John Edmonds saying his main regret was that we did not lockdown sooner.

Both sit on SAGE and I seem to remember that SAGE had no intention of recommending lockdown, and that it was in fact Dominic Cummings who pushed them to make the recommendation to lockdown on March 23rd.  

Swiss immunologists led by Professor Onur Boyman published what is probably the most important study on Covid19 lethality to date. Coronavirus is probably much more common than previously thought and the lethality per infection is up to five times lower than previously assumed. The real lethality could thus be well below 0.1% and hence in the range of strong seasonal influenza.

Several studies have now shown that up to 60% of all people already have a certain cellular immunity to Covid-19, which was acquired through contact with previous coronaviruses (common cold viruses). Children in particular often come into contact with such coronaviruses, which could help explain their insensitivity to Covid19. The new Swiss study may also explain why antibody studies even in hotspots like New York or Madrid found infection rates of at most about 20%, as this would correspond to an actual rate of nearly 100%. In many regions, the actual prevalence might already be well over 50% and thus in the range of ​​herd immunity.

Should the Swiss study be confirmed, the assessment of Oxford epidemiologist Prof. Sunetra Gupta would apply, who predicted early on that Covid-19 is very widespread and its lethality below 0.1%.

Click here to listen to Professor Gupta’s compelling interview with Unherd.

So, who is right ? Government policy continues to on the assumption that Covid-19 is indeed a deadly disease that must be contained at all costs, no matter what the economic damage and the collateral damage of extra non-covid-19  deaths. Whereas very little, if anything is heard about Professor Gupta’s model, which if true would mean the following  were NOT required for containment ; ie the Swedish model :

  • Lockdown of society not required
  • Social distancing not required
  • School closures not required
  • Contact tracing not required
  • Vaccination programme – no need to develop
  • Face masks – no need to wear

Only the “voluntary isolation of sick people” would be required, although I think that this would also include those people currently being shielded.

Professor Gupta is convinced that hidden immunity, more than lockdowns or government interventions, provide the best explanation of the Covid-19 progression. “In almost every context we’ve seen the epidemic grow, turn around and die away — almost like clockwork. Different countries have had different lockdown policies, and yet what we’ve observed is almost a uniform pattern of behaviour which is highly consistent with the SIR model.

I’m with Professor Gupta, and if She is correct with her model, it would be a very different pandemic and there would probably be no need to worry about future waves of coronavirus.

My only concern is that Professor Gupta has revised her lethality rate to between 0.1% (1 in 1,000) to 0.01% (1 in 10,000). If we take the mid point of say 1 in 5,000 (0.05%), and apply to today’s (June 11th) death figures (41,279 – 50,107), then this equates to 82.6 =100.2 million population, well over the population of the UK. This is obviously incorrect, and I will monitor against the 0.1% prediction.

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