Softening us up for a UK wide “circuit break”

Prof Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer and and Sir Patrick Vallance, Chief Scientific Officer gave a sombre 20 minute Press Briefing from Number 10 Downing Street this morning at 11.00 am. No sign of the Prime Minister or any other politician. It was full of graphs, international comparisons of similar rising cases, infections and hospital deaths, and general doom and gloom about the rising cases in the UK.

Graph showing how fast coronavirus cases could grow

The message was clear. We’re going into a “circuit break” or the first short, sharp national lockdown very soon. In a statement confirming their recommendation, the chief medical officers for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said cases were now “rising rapidly and probably exponentially in significant parts of all four nations”.

In a further choreographed measure announced this evening, the coronavirus alert level was raised from Level 3 to Level 4 :

Graphic showing coronavirus alert levels from 5-1 where 5 is risk of overwhelming healthcare services, 4 is transmission high, 3 is virus in general circulation, 2 is number of cases and transmission low, 1 virus no longer present in UK

Click for full BBC article

The Chief Scientific and Medical Officer’s case focussed on the recent experience of France and Spain. The Government is desperate to avoid being criticised for locking down too late as they did in March, and is now in danger of over-reacting to the current surge in cases nationwide.

The most recent COVID-19 report issued by the Spanish government highlights two points of interest, which demonstrate the importance of understanding the full intricacies available in the data, which may have lessons for the analysis of data elsewhere : – (ie the UK).

(Click here for the full Spanish Government report)

First, this report breaks down the progression of the epidemic in each of the 17 provinces of Spain, some of which appear to have well past a local peak of cases when considered by date of symptoms. These graphs start on 11th May after the toughest lockdown in Europe. The remaining regional graphs appear in the main Spanish Report.

This demonstrates further that national headline figures can mask that there is not one single national epidemic but one progressing differently, in seventeen different places, at different times.

Second, recent figures appear to show a greater make-up of cases that are asymptomatic (light green line) relative to those that are symptomatic (dark green line) at the time of diagnosis.

This will have likely implications for the fatalities that would be expected to result from these cases. It is worth noting that these graphs are by date of diagnosis rather than the date of symptoms, with the use of the latter likely to introduce a bias that would tend to show more recent asymptomatic cases.

This highlights the vital importance of producing detailed data regarding the makeup of the type cases reported to aid understanding of the current status of the epidemic. Reading between the lines, the authors are suggesting that the UK should be undertaking this sort of detailed analysis in order to understand the regional variations of the virus, before making massive, economically catastrophic decisions based on stupidly over-simplified statistics that affect the lives of the whole population.

Click full article

Boris Johnston will make a statement to the House of Commons tomorrow afternoon.

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