How serious is the increase in Covid-19 infections?

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I have been bombarded with emails and messages from data scientists who firmly believe the trend for Covid-19 infections, based on when a specimen was taken, flattens out or even decreases.

Based on this analysis, they are convinced that the government is overreacting by threatening to impose further social distancing measures.

And if you look at the government Covid-19 dashboard, you will be struck by the fact that the seven-day average of positive results is rising sharply, while there is a slight decrease in the seven-day average of results on the date of collection.

Now, to be clear, those running this show – the Prime Minister, the Secretary of Health, the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Advisor, advised by the Joint Biosecurity Center – are all convinced that Covid-19 infections alarmingly increasing. and dangerous way.

In fact, a high-level source, with extensive knowledge of the data used by the Joint Biosafety Center, said:

“All data sources indicate an increase in the infection rate. [That is true of ] NHS, ONS, ZOE test and trace “.

The source added that “positivity is increasing in asymptotic nursing home testing (which is unaffected by an increase in demand for testing) and across all age groups. It is undeniable that the second wave is starting and that we need to change the way of doing things. we behave very quickly if we are to avoid a national lockdown ”.

Yuck.

Just to translate this a bit: my source pointed out that now routine testing in nursing homes shows infections are on the rise in these settings, which is deeply troubling.

And what all this probably means is that the Joint Bio Security Center will soon raise the national Covid-19 alert level from the current level three to four – since the government believes the latest data indicates transmission of the disease is again high and rising exponentially.

It also suggests that in just a few days, the kind of new restrictions on our social life that I have discussed with you – pubs and restaurants being forced to close at 10 p.m., or perhaps closed temporarily. – will be ordered by the PM.

So here’s the grim prospect: we have to improve ourselves voluntarily and pronto when it comes to social distancing, otherwise our fundamental freedoms will be stripped again.

But to get back to where I started, why does the curve seem to flatten out depending on when the samples were taken? Well, I’m told it’s because that row in the data almost always falls for the last four days, because of the lag between when samples are taken and when they are processed.

And that delay has likely worsened (although the government denies it) because demand for testing has far exceeded capacity.

In other words, it was the data on test results and hospital admissions – which shows the number of infected doubling every week or so – that set off horns in Downing Street.

Which presumably means that the Prime Minister will speak to all of us through television sooner than he or we would ideally choose.

Update: My formulation on the flattening curve based on sample test data was sloppy.

On closer inspection, the rate of increase declines from around September 7 – so the “normal” underestimate of the past four days does not apply, although an increase in the backlog of unprocessed files may apply.

More aptly, this is what one data analyst used by the government said: “The use of test data as an indicator of the epidemic is inherently unreliable because it depends on who is tested.

“You have different delays in any test system and you have to be careful when you see a drop that it is not an artefact.

“Data sources like the ONS survey, hospital admissions, intensive care admissions are more reliable and all show an increase.”

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