This time folks, I want to take a look at the COVID-19 pandemic purely through the lens of data. The news reports ebb and flow and government advice around the world appears to change by the day.
I wondered if trying to take all the emotion and hyperbole out of the situation would help develop a deeper understanding of what we’re actually facing & how that could inform us how to live our lives going forwards, and hopefully give some insight on achieving elimination of COVID-19.
No, I’m not suggesting in a publicly available blog a version of anarchy – that we all make personal risk based decisions that fly in the face of government advice. But yes, I am definitely opening the door to sensible discourse about what risk we actually face as opposed to what we are told we face. Moreover, now that a few months has elapsed, we’ve got a valuable dataset that if we look hard enough contains all the secrets needed to unlock an effective vaccine and eliminate the SARS CoV-2 virus.
In fact, I argue that the data is now far more important than the science simply because the data is a leading indicator of what could happen next whereas the science is mainly still unknown.
By the way, this is not the fault of scientists, but simply the natural course of discovering the cause, effects and cures to any new condition. True to form, I can’t help but make a comment here on the UK Government’s messianic refrain of ‘led by science’.
If the science is not yet there on this virus, why exactly drive public health decision making from it! Whilst data can be manipulated and politicised, if you choose your sources carefully, it is a far more accurate way of seeing a picture of what’s happened and therefore what to do next.
All the data I present here is directly attributed to either; Our World in Data or the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) a body, independent of political influence and the main provider of data to the British Government. Almost all countries have their own statistical facility – some are more independent of politics than others…
Let me start by saying that the more I dug, the more shocked I became as to what the data tells us compared to what the press report and the politicians opine upon. At the end of this blog, I want to get into a couple of reasons why that might be.
What we can all agree upon, I’m sure, is that only when we end the pandemic everywhere can we end the pandemic anywhere. The number of infections of COVID 19 need to go to zero & every death is a tragedy to someone, somewhere.
Next up, this blog focuses only on death data, sorry about that morbidity. I haven’t jumped into the data around testing, or living with COVID-19 symptoms because this will be a separate blog I have no doubt.
– By the last census in the UK in 2011 and an adjustment for 2020, the population is around 65m people.
– Using UK data (England & Wales) for the 4 months March to end June 2020 (this is the latest data to be published and would appear to cover the most severe period where the R rate was reported as consistently over 1 across the western world
– I note the following:
– 46,736 died where COVID was a factor on their death certificate. This is 0.0007% of the UK population. For perspective, every year about 165,000 UK people die from cancer, 67,000 from dementia & overall the UK loses about 540,000 people per year in total
– For perspective, for the same 4 month period (March to June 2020) the UK saw 15,801 people die of influenza and lower respiratory disease.
– Of the total number of deaths, 1,670 were people under 55 so 3.5% of the total number who died. For perspective, in 2019 1,870 people died on British roads in car accidents
– Of the total number of deaths, 34,999 were people over 75. For perspective therefore, 75% of those who died with a COVID symptom were over 75 years old & 96.5% of those who died were over 55 years old
So, let’s get into the hard bit – what could we do differently in the future and why have our political leaders reacted the way they have so far.
1. It’s super clear that if you’re under 75, you may carry the virus, you may even be ill but your chances of dying are minute, in fact just 0.00003% of the population under 55 have died via COVID. Statistically, you are much more likely to die in a road accident than from COVID.
2. Even if you’re over 75, if you don’t have a pre-existing condition, you’re chances of contracting and dying are very low indeed. 0.003% of the population over 75 have died via COVID.
3. Now the rub here is ‘spread’ via contact with others. As far as we know dementia and cancer can’t be transmitted person to person. Of course, the human disease COVID-19 can. But it’s clear from the data that transmission between people under 75 carries practically no risk whatsoever and even to those healthy people above 75 a very modest risk.
4. Socially, for decades, we have found it acceptable to lose 540,000 people per year, many due to curable disease. Charities do most of the heavy lifting and the government does little. But here we are today seemingly valuing a person with COVID more than one with dementia.
5. The working, economically active part of the UK population is overwhelmingly under 75 years old.
6. Taking all this into account, we could conclude that we must insulate and isolate our older population. Properly insulate them from the risk and throw the full weight of the state behind keeping them in peak condition, albeit they are locked down. Whilst this will have side effects – mental health being a major one, the data shows us that we can practically eradicate COVID deaths if we protect those over 75.
7. Consequently, we should run our economies and travel policies as normal, absolutely normal. Allow working age people to go about their daily routine unhindered and unaffected, don’t lockdown anything.
8. We can see that those over 75 with a medical condition do become more likely to die from COVID. Therefore, draconian as it may appear, it is right that care homes are almost completely locked down and remain so. Similarly the rules regarding hospital visits must be strict and socially challenging.
9. If we consider these steps, we keep our hospital beds available to treat those who are ill, knowing from the data who is most likely to need care and what specific care is required.
10. So, why have governments reacted the way they have with disproportionate & often confused, impractical actions. At the start we had no science and no data. Very understandable then that back in Q1 2020 world leaders flailed around with mixed success. But by Q2 and Q3 the data was clear. By then the problem was one of politics – are you prepared to stand in front of your people and say you were fundamentally wrong. Are you strong enough to resist the temptation to want to be re-elected? Are you able to step outside what other countries do, even if they are wrong? Do you want to stop potential litigation in its tracks by putting a blanket solution over everything rather than identifying the risk areas? Are you working effectively with your peer countries to share best practise and learn from those who took a different path?
In summary, economic lockdown has been an unmitigated disaster with 50 year ramifications for the UK and all global economies. I’m not a religious man but I’m praying that data will drive the future response to COVID, not the politics because a vaccine may take years…
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