Our previous posts have tried to establish the difference between a second wave and an uptick of COVID-19 cases. In the UK, we are seeing an uptick and not a second wave and that the lifting of lockdown has very little to do with the uptick. We have also pointed out the various challenges of using case data; how the case data relates to the date it was released not necessarily the test date, and that more testing means more cases. A statistic which, whilst not immune to faults, is a surer way to understand the danger is the death rate.
It takes one simple graph to show how the government’s response to the second wave is not proportionate to the danger posed to human life. The first wave peaked around the end of April, where the daily deaths (5 day weighted moving average) reached 1,811 on 29th April. Since that spike – mainly a result of care home data being added to the criteria – the death rates have fallen at a fairly rapid rate, to a value of 14 on 15th September.
The lag between death and cases does not explain what is happening here. Cases have slowly been on the rise since the start of August, but deaths…well, deaths have reduced even further in that time. If we were in early August then questions of whether we will see rising deaths could be valid. Yet now, half way through September with several weeks of data to look at, the narrative surely has to be different.
If people aren’t dying in the same number from COVID-19 in the way they were at the start of the outbreak, why are we responding in the same way we did at the start of the outbreak.
There is an interesting and important parallel to draw here with Sweden. Sweden, as everyone now knows, did not implement a lockdown. Sweden’s deaths moved almost in parallel to the UK’s deaths at the start of the outbreak (the numbers are different due to population sizes of course, but the trend was the same). Now, Sweden’s case rates have stayed remarkably low and so too has their death rates. In the UK, deaths have remained low but the cases have increased. This is from a purely COVID-focused lens before taking into consideration the multitude of additional impacts the UK is facing as a result of lockdown.
Casting our minds back to the start of the outbreak, Dominic Cummings was advocating for a ‘no lockdown’ response, arguing that the UK should pursue herd immunity response. This was met with an outcry; how could we possibly accept more deaths in the short-term (despite it being for the greater good long-term)? The ability of the NHS to cope was however a valid argument against such an approach.
Now however, the threat to the NHS is minimal. The threat to the economy, huge. Are we really going to go back into lockdown when a clear and proven alternative strategy is available…?!