Sunday, 24 January 2021

Green industrial revolution, or Great Leap Backward?

 

Prologue: The decay of politics

For several decades now, there has been a continual decline in the quality of the political atmosphere, in the UK and elsewhere. In the UK, I think this probably dates back to the 1970s and Old Labour; but the Tories and New Labour have both actively helped it along. Government has lost respect for the people it is supposed to serve. It treats us, at best, as if we were naughty children. It takes no account of what we actually are: thinking, feeling human beings, who need freedom and justice in order to live our lives to the full. In consequence, many people have begun to lose confidence in politics and government, no matter which party is in power. And among such people there is a, slowly but inexorably, mounting sense of exasperation with the political establishment and those in it. The Brexit referendum vote in 2016, and the meteoric rise of the Brexit Party in the first half of 2019, were signs of this.

Meanwhile, the political class and their cohorts (such as bureaucrats, academe, media, big-company bosses) have steadily become more and more authoritarian, arrogant, dishonest, deceitful, untrustworthy, grasping, irresponsible, evasive of accountability, hypocritical, hysterical, and lacking in concern for us “little people.” It is as if they have formed themselves into a giant, psychopathic, criminal gang; and we are their chosen victims.

You can see this in their erection of millions of cameras to spy on us. In their tracking of our Internet and phone usage. In their obvious desire to use any “crisis” they can drum up, such as the COVID epidemic, to take away or restrict our liberties. But nowhere is it more clearly reflected than by their conduct on environmental issues, such as the matter often called “climate change” or, alternatively, “global warming,” “climate crisis” or “climate emergency.” And, in particular, by the UK government’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution [[1]], published in November 2020.

The Ten Point Plan

The plan sets out policies the UK government intends to force on people over the next ten years and more, in the name of “building back better, supporting green jobs, and accelerating our path to net zero.” It shows just how far into the abyss prime minister Boris Johnson, the ruling Tory party, and the rest of the UK political establishment have descended.

Under more auspicious circumstances, some aspects of this would be quite amusing. The phrase “green industrial revolution” is lifted verbatim from the Labour party’s 2019 manifesto [[2]]. Yet this is a Tory government that is doing these things to us! Johnson writes in a foreword about his ambitious plans “to unite and level up our country.” That same Labour manifesto said “The climate and environmental emergency is a chance to unite the country…” and spoke of “levelling up across the country.” I’ve long been saying there’s no real difference between the mainstream political parties in the UK; and this proves it.

I’ll give some thoughts about the ten points themselves, before descending into the politics.

One: “advancing offshore wind.” “By 2030 we plan to quadruple our offshore wind capacity,” so they say, to 40 gigawatts. I feel a sense of déjà vu. Back in 2007, New Labour promised 33 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2020. How many got built? Just over 10. Good enough for government work, I suppose. They say also that the cost of offshore wind power has fallen by two-thirds in the last five years, and is likely to fall still further. But at least one expert says the opposite: [[3]].

Now, I do know that the UK government has over many years been very cavalier in the way it has treated costs and benefits of anything environmental. I know, also, that wind power is intermittent, so must always be backed up by a reliable source of base load power, whose costs must also be taken into account. Moreover, the ten-point plan uses the word could repeatedly, whenever it discusses touted benefits. Making me think, pigs could fly.

Two: “driving the growth of low carbon hydrogen.” Which could provide “a clean source of fuel and heat for our homes, transport and industry.” And the UK is a world leader in “investigating the use of hydrogen for heating.” But what would be needed to make hydrogen as a fuel work cost-effectively on a large scale isn’t off-the-shelf technology, or anything like it. And hydrogen has problems of its own: like cost, safety, difficulty of storage and of transport. Moreover, current commercial means of making it also emit lots of carbon dioxide. Overall, this comes over to me as pie in the sky.

Three: “delivering new and advanced nuclear power.” Hooray! A half-way sensible idea at last. Nuclear power is proven technology; the French have already been there. Unlike wind, it can generate the base load which any industrial civilization needs. There is plenty of fuel for decades at least, even without breeder reactors. And, despite Chernobyl and Fukushima, it has a good safety record. It is expensive, though. But much of the expense is down to long project timescales with their associated uncertainties, and costs deliberately imposed by government on behalf of activist groups, through “regulatory ratcheting” and “regulatory turbulence.” Indeed, there are still ructions and uncertainties over the proposed Sizewell C reactor development. And even Hinckley Point C, given in the plan as a case study, has faced immense political obstacles, including some put up by the EU and the United Nations.

Small modular reactors stand out as a potential for the future. But these are still at the development stage. And there is, as yet, no licensing régime to allow them to go live.

Four: “accelerating the shift to zero emission vehicles.” With current technology, this means electric cars and vans. Now, electric vehicles have many disadvantages over conventional ones. Higher purchase price. No real second-hand market yet; and part exchange will become unviable, as petrol and diesel cars become all but worthless. Increased weight. Short range per fill-up. Slow charging, likely meaning long queues at filling stations. The possibility of a very dangerous fire in the event of an accident. Potential world shortages of materials to make the batteries. Battery disposal issues.

A major shift towards electric cars would also require a huge and potentially de-stabilizing makeover of the electricity grid. The roll-out of car charging points to tens of millions of homes and tens of thousands of filling station pumps would be an expensive nightmare. And how would those, who have to park our cars some distance from our front doors, be able to charge them overnight?

The plan talks of “thousands more ultra-low and zero-emission cars and vans on UK roads” and “thousands more charge points in homes.” But they understate the problem by many orders of magnitude. There are more than 35 million cars and vans on UK roads today!

Moreover, the Tories have behaved very dishonestly towards car drivers. First, they put into their 2019 manifesto a date (2040) for banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars; so, they could claim that those, who really only voted for them to get Brexit done, also voted for that. Second, in July 2020 they held a “consultation” on the issue of “de-carbonizing transport.” I spent almost a month writing a 58-page, reasoned response, with many good arguments why nothing needed to be done at all, and everyone should be left free to choose whatever form or forms of transport best suit them and their circumstances. But all the points I, and others of like mind, made were totally ignored. This showed that the whole “consultation” was, as I had cynically expected, just a rubber-stamping exercise for the deep green political agenda. A rubber stamp, which they then used to pull the date of the ban forward from 2040 to 2030.

And then, there’s this. “We will need to ensure that the tax system encourages the uptake of EVs and that revenue from motoring taxes keeps pace with this change.” I think I know what that means, for those who can’t afford to buy a new electric car. To retain mobility, they will have no option but to keep on running older petrol or diesel cars. But the taxes on these cars will be jacked up so high, that they won’t be able to afford to do that either. So, these people – and, I suspect, a very large number of people, including me – will lose mobility entirely. So much for Johnson’s “level up our country!”

Five: “green public transport, cycling and walking.” I’m old enough to have a free pass to use buses; but I don’t use them that much, because they aren’t convenient. (Only one route goes within half a mile of my home; and that isn’t very frequent, and doesn’t run at all in the evening or on Sunday). And many buses are uncomfortable, if not also slow. There are two railway stations down in the valley, but it’s a steep uphill hike back from either of them. As to the bicycle, it’s a fine means of transport in its place. I know this, because I once bicycled coast-to-coast across North America! But it isn’t a practical way for a 67-year-old, who lives at the top of a steep hill, to get around. Walking, too, can be pleasant and healthy; I do a lot of it. But it’s slow. And if you have a heavy load to carry (I play the tuba!), it’s a no-no.

What comes through very strongly here is the lack of concern for ordinary human beings. The plans seem directed at making life even more difficult for car drivers, with yet more bus and cycle lanes and schemes like low traffic neighbourhoods, rather than improving anything. These schemes have already caused difficulties for those who must travel by car, such as disabled people. And some of them have significantly increased journey times, and caused more pollution. Those who live in big cities or in town centres may, perhaps, think they would be better off with more public transport and less cars. But those who live in the countryside, in villages, on the outskirts of towns or in outer suburbs are likely to find themselves getting an extremely bad deal. This, again, is hardly “levelling up.” It is class war, being waged by an urban élite against the country and suburban people.

Six: “jet zero and green ships.” When I looked for details on zero-emission aircraft, I didn’t find much. My expectation is that they will, when (if?) they arrive, be smaller, slower, more expensive to run and with a shorter range than today’s jets. That would price many people out of the market for air travel, as well as raising the costs of long-distance trade, and so increasing the cost of living for everyone. The plan does mention “battery and hydrogen aircrafts.” But batteries have orders of magnitude less energy density than conventional jet fuels. And a vice-president of Airbus says that “the road to widespread hydrogen adoption in aviation is still long.” As to ships, electric container ships seem to be a non-starter, and large hydrogen powered ships look a long way off.

Seven: “greener buildings.” Heat pumps seem to be the proposed method of choice for future heating. But they are hugely expensive up-front, and installation is difficult. You may need new, larger radiators, too. But what if you don’t have the space for them? And, so I’m told, heat pumps are noisy, and more expensive to run than gas heating. And they stop working in the coldest weather; exactly when we need heat the most. In any case, how can you afford to install a heat pump if you don’t have the money? And what are older people to do, who have barely enough to live on anyway? How can they afford to “improve the energy efficiency of homes and replace fossil fuel heating?” They can’t. Nor will they be able to move, since the government plans to make selling or renting out older, unimproved homes “illegal!”

Tucked away at the bottom is a promise to “improve energy efficiency standards of household products so they use less energy and materials.” I think I know what that means; less and less effective appliances. Remember the EU directives that gave us expensive light bulbs that don’t deliver enough light to see by, and vacuum cleaners that don’t clean our carpets properly? This sounds like more of the same, in spades.

Eight: “investing in carbon capture, usage and storage.” If CO2 emissions actually were the problem that they’re made out to be, this might be a good idea. But it looks horribly expensive. The idea of storing the stuff under the North Sea sounds dubious. And there have been failed projects of this kind already in Germany, Norway and the USA, at least. Oh, and look at who the big players are in this pseudo “market.” I googled “carbon capture technology,” and the first three hits I got were ads from Shell, Aramco and Exxon Mobil!

Nine: “protecting our natural environment.” “We will safeguard our cherished landscapes, restore habitats for wildlife in order to combat biodiversity loss and adapt to climate change.” Despite that twee sentiment, this is actually one of the few half way sensible sets of ideas in this plan. Better flood defences and planting more trees, indeed, are two of the very few ideas here that could actually bring genuine benefits to real people.

But I still can’t rid myself of the thought that all the pap about humans damaging wildlife and biodiversity is really just a smokescreen. Whenever I ask a green supporter to name a species to whose extinction I have contributed, and to say what I did, and when, to contribute to that extinction, I never get a factual answer. And when I ask for hard evidence that humans are causing a biodiversity problem, all I get is links to alarmist reports from the World Wildlife Federation, or from the UN’s IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) – see [[4]]. IPBES is, almost exactly, the equivalent on this issue of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the global warming one. And its chairman is one Sir Robert Watson, who was also chairman of the IPCC from 1997 to 2002!

Ten: “green finance and innovation.” Aha, I knew the money men would get their cut! The big question, of course, is where will the money for all these schemes come from? “Green bonds” may sound like a great idea. But I wonder whether realistic investors may not choose   to stay clear of projects so big and complex that, even if well run, they would be very likely to tank. With politicians involved, that becomes absolutely certain to tank. Moreover, it’s clear from phrases like “mandatory reporting of climate-related financial information” and “ensure an equitable balance of contributions across society” that huge tax rises are planned to finance all this. And these taxes won’t go to help the poor; no, sir. These taxes will re-distribute wealth from the politically poor – us ordinary people – to the politically rich. The beneficiaries will be those, including the politicians and the big-company bosses, that want to profit from forcing us into an unjust, unfree, nightmare “green” world.

Is that all? Hell, no. The final section, “the race to zero,” says: “In the coming year, we will set out further plans for reducing emissions across all the UK’s major economic sectors.” The pain and fall-out from all this for the ordinary people of the UK are only just beginning.

Comparison with the Industrial Revolution

The title “green industrial revolution” invites comparison with the Industrial Revolution, which began in the mid to late 18th century, and is arguably still in progress today. Now, the Industrial Revolution, in the UK at least, was an organic, bottom-up revolution. It was not initiated, or controlled, by government. Indeed, government didn’t even do that much to help it along. I can think of only three helpful things it did. It suppressed the destructive Luddites. It decided where new railway tracks could be built, over the opposition of the local landlords. And it introduced the idea of limited liability, under which honest investors in the new projects were protected against losing more than they had invested.

For consumers, the Industrial Revolution was also an era of choice; of take-it-or-leave-it. While companies were often forced by competitive pressure to adopt the new technologies, individuals, families, towns and cities didn’t have to make use of them if they didn’t want to. (Though they usually chose to do so, whenever there were clear benefits.) Moreover, if things went wrong, and the benefits did not come or could not be sustained, they always had the option to go back to the old ways. A case in point is my own town; the first place in Europe to have electric street lighting (in 1881). By 1884, the supplier decided they could no longer deliver the electricity at an affordable price. So, the town had to go back to gas lighting, and electric lighting did not return until 1904.

These green plans, on the other hand, are not a natural, organic revolution. They are mandated, from the top down, by a political class that seeks to mould the UK economy into a command-and-control system reminiscent of the Soviet one. They are eagerly supported, not only by green activists and their academic and media comrades, but also by the money men and the big-company élites, who stand to gain billions and more from all these projects. They are supported by church leaders, too – about as establishment as you can get. But they take no account of the many, for whom the policies will cause severe pain and expense, without any corresponding benefits. This is no less than a takeover of the economy by an élite, that seems to have no interest at all in the well-being of ordinary people.

And if things go wrong and goals set cannot be met, will there be any option to back out, and return to the old methods? If world-wide shortages of materials to make batteries, for example, were to slow down the roll-out of electric vehicles, would we be able to continue for as long as necessary with petrol and diesel cars? Even if the carmakers had not already dismantled their assembly lines, I very much doubt that the politicians would let that happen. The little people, they would opine, will just have to do without.

For these reasons, I find it very dishonest to try to liken this supposed green industrial revolution to the Industrial Revolution which began 250 or so years ago. I can think of two far better analogies. One was Stalin’s “Great Turn” of the early 1930s, which rapidly “modernized” Soviet Russia using a top-down, communist model; and in the process, committed genocide against the kulaks, and caused the Holodomor famine. The other was Mao’s “Great Leap Forward.” And we all know how that turned out. It is because of this analogy that I have dubbed the green industrial revolution plan the “Great Leap Backward.”

Indeed, I see this plan as part of a reactionary counter-revolution to the Industrial Revolution. You can’t get any idea much more conservative or reactionary (or, indeed, ridiculous) than “stopping climate change!” (Words of Alok Sharma, minister, on page 4 of the plan.) For the climate changes, irrespective of anything humans do. Always has done, always will. Yet these reactionaries want to freeze (no pun intended) the climate, so it never changes again!

The Industrial Revolution gave humans the power to take control of our physical environment. It has allowed us to mould our environment to suit ourselves, and to start making our planet into a home and garden fit for a civilized species. Yet those that promote this plan want to throw away everything we have so laboriously built over the last 250+ years. They want to scrap the foundations of all economic progress; the free market, and honest business and industry. For the sake of virtue signalling like “restoring habitats for wildlife,” they want to destroy our habitat – the natural habitat of honest human beings.

They don’t want the world economy to grow. They don’t want ordinary people to have freedom of choice in how we live our lives. They don’t want people to be prosperous – except themselves and their cronies, of course. And they are so dishonest, that they disguise their intentions, and make out that they want to lead us to a better world, not the dreary, depressing nightmare they actually have in mind for us.

Those, that promote or support policies such as these, are traitors to human civilization. They deserve to be expelled from our civilization, and denied all its benefits.

Economic recovery from the COVID virus

All this, so we are told, is to enable us to “build back better” once the COVID-19 virus is gone. Yet it seems, to me at least, to be an extremely risky way to go about building anything. There are the risks that arise in any command-and-control system. There are risks that technologies may not be ready when they are needed. There are risks in rolling out projects on such a large scale. There are risks of de-stabilizing the electricity grid. There are risks of high-profile accidents. There are financial and budgetary risks. And the likely loss of mobility, and exorbitant cost of adapting homes, for many ordinary people make the idea that the end result can possibly be “better” into nothing but a sick joke.

For how to bring back to life an economy that has all but died, look at what the Germans did in the 1950s. So effective was it, that it has acquired its own name, Wirtschaftswunder. It was based on low taxes, free market principles and fair competition; three indispensable components for building prosperity. For my taste, there was far too much government control over the process. But there is no doubt that it worked. The Wirtschaftswunder would be a far better model on which to base any country’s economic recovery from COVID, than this top-down dirigisme masquerading as a “green industrial revolution.”

And yet, responses to this reactionary, freedom-killing plan appeared, in the first few days at least, overwhelmingly positive. On the Internet, I had to wade through several pages of “it’s great” and “it doesn’t go far enough” responses, before finding any that were even slightly critical. But when you look at who has been making these comments, they turn out to be the expected suspects; exactly those that will most benefit from these policies. Government departments, politicians, academics, quangos, companies angling for green contracts, and the like. The only early negative responses I found were a couple of articles in the Daily Mail. Since then, there have been on the Internet many articles pointing out negative aspects and impracticalities of the plan. But no-one seems to be taking any notice. It’s plain that this is all a giant stitch-up. Of which we, the ordinary people of the UK, are victims.

Where do we go from here?

It’s hard to see us making any progress against bad green policies through the current political system. In the UK, all the mainstream political parties have “gone green.” The only potential exception is the former Brexit Party, recently re-badged as Reform UK. But I am not sanguine that Nigel Farage is radical enough to want to tackle this issue head on, despite the enormous vote potential. (More than 60% of the UK electorate are car drivers!) There are a few climate realist parties in Europe, but many of them carry unpleasant far-right baggage. In the USA, the Republicans seem to be wavering on the issue; and there’s nobody else.

Besides which, this is not a “left” versus “right” matter. Nor, from what I see, does it have anything to do with any of the prevalent social divides, like race, skin colour, birthplace, nationality, social class, gender, sexual orientation, culture, religion, ideology or lifestyle. To me, it looks more like the divide which German Jewish sociologist Franz Oppenheimer identified in his 1908 master-work, The State. This separates users of what he calls the economic means – “the equivalent exchange of one’s own labor for the labor of others” – from users of the political means – “the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others.”

To a first approximation at least, supporters of the green agenda, like politicians, public sector employees, state funded academics, mainstream media, and politically oriented or subsidy craving company bosses, tend also to favour the political means. And we ordinary people, who by our nature utilize the economic means, are the victims of this agenda.

I sense that the mounting anger and vexation with politics, which I and others feel today, is a sign of a penny starting to drop in the minds of more and more people; a dawning sense of just how badly politics today is screwed up. So, I think that a change of party at the helm, or a new political party, or some other kind of movement within the current political context, is not going to achieve the necessary level of change. What we need, in my view, is to ditch politics as it exists today, and replace it by something better. What we need is no less than a new and better way of looking at how we humans should best organize ourselves for what Aristotle called “the common good of all.”

I am among those, who are working towards a better way for us human beings to co-exist with each other. And I expect that to reach this goal will require a fundamental re-think of who we are, how we ought to behave, and what we are here for. I hope to be able to publish some draft ideas in the next few weeks or months. But today, I’ll leave you with a quote from author and activist Bryant McGill. “Revolution starts in the mind. Question Everything!”

Friday, 1 January 2021

COVID-19: the “second wave” - Update

This is an update to my paper of December 3rd on tracking the COVID-19 epidemic in fourteen Western European countries. It uses the data up to and including December 31st 2020. The data sources are the same as before: Our World in Data and the Blavatnik School of Government, both at Oxford University.

The main news this month, apart from seemingly never-ending lockdowns and the ghost of Christmas passed, has been the new, supposedly more easily transmissible strain of the virus, discovered in the UK. Initially, I was a bit skeptical. But as you can see in the graph at the top, the UK (pink line) does indeed have a climbing trend in new daily cases, which over the whole of December is very different from the trends in the other countries. So, I think we can fairly say that there is indeed a new, more transmissible strain, in the UK and perhaps some other countries.

In other news, no sooner had I changed all my “magic spreadsheets” to use the newly added reproduction rate (Rt) data column, than all 14 countries stopped reporting this data! There has been no Rt data for any of them since December 4th. I had already noticed that the Rt looked as if it was being calculated differently in different countries. So, perhaps they got together and decided the Rt values weren’t fit for purpose. A great pity, since it is (would be) one of the most interesting statistics of all at the present stage of the epidemic. It will be interesting to see whether, and if so when, they resume providing this data.

Cases

I’ll begin with cases again. I’ll skip the total cases per million graph, as it doesn’t show anything significant, which you can’t already see from the daily cases per million graph above.

Here is the list of daily cases per million as at the end of the month:

The UK, Sweden, Netherlands and Denmark are leading the pack. And every country except Belgium is now above the WHO’s “naughty boy, you mustn’t unlock” threshold of 200 new cases per million population per day. Yet many of the countries are under more severe lockdown than they were a month ago. This suggests to me that the WHO’s threshold is too low for its apparent purpose. Making me think, might it have been better to base any assessment of “high risk” status on hospital occupancy figures, rather than simply on cases?

Here’s the weekly case growth graph:

Ireland is now at the top in weekly case growth, suggesting that it too may have a more transmissible strain of the virus. The UK is second. The next group seem to be a mixture. Some have weekly case growth negative and roughly static. Others have recently turned a corner back towards, and in some cases even into, positive case growth. I wonder if this may be a “Christmas effect?” Again, time will tell.

Here’s the histogram of who is where:

And the latest lockdown stringency graph:


The issues, which were causing the UK stringency not to include measures which were only in place in individual constituent countries, do appear to have been fixed. The ordering of the stringencies is also worth a look. I haven’t seen Germany up at the top before! And the stringent lockdown in the UK is clearly not succeeding at slowing the rise in new cases.

Tests

For tests, I’ll show the graph of cumulative tests per 100,000. This shows that, with the exception of Denmark in second place, none of the countries have in the last few weeks been greatly increasing their testing rates.

And here is the graph of cumulative cases per test over the course of the epidemic:

The countries divide into four groups. In the Netherlands, Switzerland and perhaps Germany, cumulative cases per test are still rising. In the UK, Ireland and Denmark, the rate, which had all but levelled off, started to rise again during December. In Belgium and Spain, the rate is now falling. The rest seem to be staying roughly constant.

Deaths

The daily deaths per million graph is inconclusive:

And the deaths per case, with a 21-day offset, tell us that several countries have had a bad December in this regard; most of all the UK, Belgium, Germany and France.



To conclude

I decided that, at this point, it isn’t worth reviewing again the effects of lockdown actions in individual countries since the beginning of December. One more month seems insufficient time to make any clear judgements, and the figures will have been distorted by Christmas (and will be further distorted by the New Year). I plan to take another look towards the end of January. By which time, I will hopefully be able to show also some data on hospitalizations and vaccinations.

Thursday, 3 December 2020

COVID-19: the “second wave” in Europe


A month ago, I compared the histories of the COVID-19 epidemic in fourteen Western European countries. At that point, the “second wave” of the virus, which had been building throughout the region for three or four months, was giving governments an excuse to start re-introducing lockdowns. So, I said that I would review the situation in a month or so. That month has now elapsed, so here’s the review. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll now have enough data to form some idea of which lockdown measures have been effective, and which haven’t.

Once again, here is the list of countries:

Austria

Belgium

Denmark

France

Germany

Ireland

Italy

Luxembourg

Netherlands

Portugal

Spain

Sweden

Switzerland

UK

The data sources are the same as before: Our World in Data and the Blavatnik School of Government, both at Oxford University. The data I used was taken on December 3rd, and it included figures up to and including December 2nd.

In the last week or so, the Our World in Data feed has changed quite substantially. Most data before the third week of January has been deleted. Some countries – France, Germany and Sweden at least – have taken the opportunity to wipe and re-write a lot of their data, some of it right back to the beginning of the epidemic. And the data for UK dependencies (Jersey, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Gibraltar) and Danish dependencies (Faeroe Islands, Greenland) has disappeared entirely. I would have expected that this data might have been consolidated into the parent country’s; but for the UK at least, I don’t see any evidence of this.

Every so often, the Our World in Data feed adds new data columns. One of these recently added is the reproduction rate (Rt). This is the average number of new infections passed on (as at a given day) by a single infected person. It is usually expressed as a fraction. Rt bigger than 1 means the infection numbers are generally rising, and less than 1 means they are generally falling. In the UK at least, this is modelled data rather than measured data. And, as we’ll see, some countries’ figures are smoother than others, so it looks as if different countries are calculating it differently. But it’s still of interest to compare even a modelled Rt with the observed rate of growth of new cases.

Also, in November the Swedes have also completely re-written their lockdown stringency data, and it now looks as if for months their lockdown hasn’t been nearly as light as we had been led to believe. All this said, I’ll repeat what I’ve said many times before; It’s the best data I have, so I’ll use it.

Cases

I’ll begin with cases. Here are the total (cumulative) cases per million population over the whole period of the epidemic, up to December 2nd.


Here is a daily cases per million population comparison. The data shown are centrally averaged over a 7-day period. That is, the date against which a count is plotted is the 4th (central) day of the period.


In the great majority of the 14 countries, the new case counts have peaked since late October, and in many have since fallen significantly. So, the recent lockdowns must have had an effect. Which measures have had the most effect, is a moot point at this stage.

Here is the list of daily cases per million as at the end of the month:


To put this in perspective, only Spain, Ireland and France are currently below the 200 new cases per million population per day, at which the WHO considers the virus to be endemic, and no unlocks should be considered. However, four more countries, including the UK, are now only slightly above it.

Another way to look at the cases figures is in terms of weekly new case growth. This is the percentage growth in the (weekly averaged) new cases from a particular day to the same day of the week a week later. This requires the weekly averaged new cases up to 3 days after the current date, meaning there must be at least 6 days of case data after the current date. That is why the graph stops before the end of November.


It’s obvious that, over the last four weeks, the trends in weekly case growth have almost all been downward. So much so, that only three of the countries are now showing positive growth in new cases:


Another way to look at infection rates is to plot the reproduction rate, Rt. This is based on numbers of infections, not cases, so it may show a slightly different picture to the weekly case growth. Later, when I come to plot the two on the same axis, it will become plain that while the two are clearly related, they don’t always move together in perfect sync.

Here are the Rt values supplied by each country over the course of the epidemic. With the exception of Sweden, the Rt rates have been trending down throughout November:



The UK is one of only four of the countries with an Rt rate below 1 at the end of November.

In contrast, the trends in lockdown stringency have almost all been upward since late October:


The UK (pink line) appears to be bucking this trend; but, like most things political, that is a deceit. The apparent drop around November 10th was caused by the release of “circuit-breaker” lockdowns in Wales and Northern Ireland. Yet people in England are (were?) far harder locked down at the end of November than at the end of October. At the moment at least, the figure pulled through to Our World in Data only reports measures which are in place UK wide; it seems to miss additional measures in the individual constituent countries. On top of the currently reported figure of about 64%, these additional measures account as of November 30th for around 5% extra stringency in England, 3% in Northern Ireland and Wales, and around 1% in Scotland.

Tests

The number of cases which get found depends, in part at least, on the testing capacity available. Here are the cumulative tests carried out per 100,000 population in each country (except Sweden and France, which do not report cumulative test counts):


Luxembourg and Denmark are well ahead of the rest. In fact, the number of tests done in Luxembourg since the start of the epidemic is more than twice the population!

Another interesting statistic is the cumulative percentage of positives among the tests done since the very beginning of the epidemic:


In many of the countries, the cases per test percentage has climbed significantly in the second wave of the epidemic. I’d guess this is simply because infections have been climbing faster than any increase in the number of tests available. This is consistent with the observation that, in most of the countries, this ratio now seems to be nearing a second peak.

Deaths

Here are four spaghetti graphs of deaths from the virus. The first is total deaths per million population. The second shows the daily deaths per million, over the course of the epidemic; and I have appended to it a histogram of the deaths per million rates as at November 30th. You can see here which countries have started to “get on top” of the second wave, and which haven’t. The third shows deaths per case, with the cases offset 21 days back from the deaths (21 days being the mean length of the course of the disease, in the UK at least). The fourth and final graph shows the cumulative totals of deaths per case over the whole course of the epidemic.






The UK (pink line) is not doing well in the deaths-per-case stakes. It is second only to Italy in current daily deaths per case. And the UK is now top of the list in terms of deaths per case over the whole epidemic, at about 3.6%. Deaths per case is, I think, a fair indicator of lack of quality in a country’s health care system; for lack of testing capacity, and less effective treatment of those who need hospitalization, will both tend to increase it.

Lockdowns

I come now to the meat of this review. For each country, I have plotted weekly case growth percentage (blue line), lockdown stringency percentage (brown line) and Rt rate multiplied by 100 to express it as a percentage (grey line), all on the same graph. Both the weekly case growth and Rt are capped at a maximum of 200%. If a particular lockdown measure is effectual, then I would expect the grey and blue lines to move in the opposite direction to the brown, at or shortly after the day the measure comes into effect. A newly introduced lockdown measure, if successful, ought to visibly slow Rt rate, or weekly case growth, or both, within the incubation period of the virus (maximum 12 days).

This is complicated by the fact that, as you will see from the graphs, the virus has a rhythm of its own. Under conditions of constant stringency, the weekly case growth tends to oscillate periodically. The period can be different in different countries, and sometimes varies from time to time within a country; but 2 to 6 weeks from peak to peak or trough to trough is typical. Left to itself, over the course of many cycles, the weekly case growth will tend to rise. But if a lockdown measure is effective, it may change the overall trend between peaks or troughs from upwards to downwards, and may also start to smooth out the peaks and troughs.

As to the reproduction rate, it too tends to oscillate periodically, in the same direction as the weekly case growth. Peaks and troughs in weekly case growth often show a few days ahead of peaks and troughs in the Rt rate. However, as some of the examples below will show, it is now quite common to have Rt above 1 and case growth negative at the same time.

The other component of my review is the detailed data, which the Blavatnik School of Government provide on the status of 12 lockdown indicators (9 of which contribute to the stringency index) for each country for each day. I have converted these to a list of measures which have been imposed (or unlocked) in each country, with dates, since August 1st. I have also included a summary of the currently active lockdown measures in each country.

Austria

Date

Stringency

Measures

20200906

36.11

Schools: Recommended closed (Regional)

International: Ban some arrivals

20200914

36.11

Face covering: Required when with others

20200917

37.04

Workplaces: Recommended closed (Regional)

Gatherings: Up to 11-100

20200929

40.74

Stay at home: Recommended

20201013

44.91

Events: Mandatory cancelled (Regional)

Gatherings: Up to <=10 (Regional)

20201017

58.8

Workplaces: Some closed (Regional)

Stay at home: Required with exceptions (Regional)

Travel: Mandatory restrictions (Regional)

20201023

60.19

Gatherings: Up to <=10

20201027

64.81

Schools: Recommended closed

Events: Mandatory cancelled

20201102

75

Schools: Some closed

Workplaces: Some closed

Public transport: Recommended closed

Stay at home: Required with exceptions

Travel: Recommended not to travel

20201117

82.41

Schools: Mandatory closed

Workplaces: Mandatory closed

Current (20201127): Schools: Mandatory closed, Workplaces: Mandatory closed, Events: Mandatory cancelled, Gatherings: Up to <=10, Public transport: Recommended closed, Stay at home: Required with exceptions, Travel: Recommended not to travel, International: Ban some arrivals, Public info: Co-ordinated, Testing: Open, Contact tracing: Comprehensive, Face covering: Required when with others.

Notes: Given the high peaks in both Rt and case growth near the end of October, I don’t think the lockdown measures introduced during September and early October had a whole lot of effect. However, the September 29th “Stay at home: Recommended” did appear to produce an all but immediate downturn in weekly case growth and in reproduction rate. The October 23rd reduced limit on the size of gatherings also seems to have had an immediate beneficial effect. The November 2nd measures also had some positive effect, though it’s not possible to tell which of them were responsible for it. The November 17th measures have continued the drop in weekly case growth, but I don’t yet have the Rt figures to cross-check with.

There’s something else curious about this graph. Look at the peaks in Rt and in the weekly case growth. They seem to be getting vertically further apart from each other. As time goes on, it looks as if it takes a higher Rt to produce a given growth in cases. I wonder, perhaps, if the proportion of infections which do not lead to confirmed cases (for example, because they are asymptomatic) is rising? If so, that’s good news.

Belgium

Date

Stringency

Measures

 

20200729

62.96

Workplaces: Mandatory closed (Regional)

Gatherings: Up to <=10

Stay at home: Required with exceptions (Regional)

20200807

59.26

Stay at home: Recommended (Regional)

20200809

64.81

Travel: Mandatory restrictions (Regional)

20200812

58.33

Workplaces: Some closed

Stay at home: Required with exceptions (Regional)

Travel: No restrictions

20200827

52.78

Stay at home: No measures

20200930

47.22

Events: Recommended cancelled

Face covering: Required in some places

 

20201001

47.22

Face covering: Required when with others

 

20201009

45.37

Workplaces: Some closed (Regional)

 

20201019

54.63

Workplaces: Some closed

Stay at home: Required with exceptions

 

20201029

56.48

Schools: Some closed (Regional)

 

20201102

65.74

Workplaces: Mandatory closed

Events: Mandatory cancelled

 

20201116

63.89

Schools: Recommended closed

 

Current (20201123): Schools: Recommended closed, Workplaces: Mandatory closed, Events: Mandatory cancelled, Gatherings: Up to <=10, Stay at home: Required with exceptions, International: Ban some arrivals, Public info: Co-ordinated, Testing: If symptoms, Contact tracing: Comprehensive, Face covering: Required when with others.

Notes: I added the July 29th measures to the list above, because they do seem to have had an immediate and significant effect. The only national measure in that group was the restriction of gathering size to 10 or below, so that may have been what “did the trick” at that stage. The precipitate fall in weekly case growth around October 22nd, and the reproduction rate a little later, looks likely to be due to the October 19th “Stay at home: Required with exceptions.” The November 2nd mandatory closure of workplaces and cancellation of events have in fact been followed by an increase in weekly case growth, though it is still (just) negative. Rt has continued to drop, but there is no “knee” to suggest that this measure on its own made a significant difference.

I will, however, note that the stringent October 1st “Face covering: Required when with others” mandate seems to have done nothing at all to prevent the huge peak in new cases in mid to late October. And it seems to have sent the reproduction rate up, not down! I think that gives us some evidence that mandating face coverings brings little or no benefits.

Denmark

Date

Stringency

Measures

20200801

50.93

Schools: Recommended closed

20200822

50.93

Face covering: Required in some places

20200909

47.69

Workplaces: Some closed (Regional)

Gatherings: Up to 11-100 (Regional)

Public info: Co-ordinated (Regional)

20200919

50.93

Workplaces: Some closed

Gatherings: Up to 11-100

20201010

41.67

Workplaces: Recommended closed

Gatherings: Up to 101-1000

Public transport: Open

Public info: Co-ordinated

Contact tracing: Limited

20201021

37.04

Schools: Open

Gatherings: Up to 11-100

Stay at home: No measures

Contact tracing: Comprehensive

20201026

39.81

Gatherings: Up to <=10

20201109

54.63

Schools: Some closed (Regional)

Stay at home: Recommended

Travel: Recommended not to travel

20201116

50

Stay at home: Recommended (Regional)

Travel: Recommended not to travel (Regional)

20201119

43.52

Schools: Recommended closed

Stay at home: No measures

Travel: No restrictions

20201123

45.37

Stay at home: Recommended (Regional)

Current (20201130): Schools: Recommended closed, Workplaces: Recommended closed, Events: Recommended cancelled, Gatherings: Up to <=10, Stay at home: Recommended (Regional), International: Ban some arrivals, Public info: Co-ordinated, Testing: Open, Contact tracing: Comprehensive, Face covering: Required in some places.

Notes: Denmark’s Rt rate looks smoother than either Austria’s or Belgium’s, and it doesn’t show all the peaks and troughs in weekly case growth. It looks as if they may be calculating it a different way from the others.

The last three troughs in Rt (the final one is only just visible) look to have all bottomed out at similar values around 120%, and all at stringency levels near 50%, too. The October 26th reduction of maximum group size, combined with the stay at home and not-to-travel recommendations in force from November 9th to 19th, have brought the Rt down somewhat, but not as much as I would have expected. They may also have contributed to the small size of the following case growth peak; but I can’t be sure. We’ll have to wait a bit longer to draw any conclusions from Denmark.

France

Date

Stringency

Measures

20200803

46.3

Face covering: Required outside the home (Regional)

20200814

48.15

Workplaces: Some closed (Regional)

20200901

46.76

Gatherings: Up to <=10 (Regional)

20200903

48.61

Schools: Some closed (Regional)

20200922

46.76

Schools: Recommended closed

20200926

49.54

Events: Mandatory cancelled (Regional)

20201010

43.98

Events: Recommended cancelled

Travel: No restrictions

20201017

49.54

Stay at home: Required with exceptions (Regional)

20201030

78.7

Schools: Some closed

Workplaces: Mandatory closed

Events: Mandatory cancelled

Gatherings: Up to <=10

Stay at home: Required with exceptions

Travel: Mandatory restrictions

20201128

75

Workplaces: Some closed

 

Current (20201128): Schools: Some closed, Workplaces: Some closed, Events: Mandatory cancelled, Gatherings: Up to <=10, Stay at home: Required with exceptions, Travel: Mandatory restrictions, International: Ban some arrivals, Public info: Co-ordinated. Testing: Open. Contact tracing: Comprehensive, Face covering: Required when with others.

Notes: To help make sense of the French data, I’ll show also the daily cases graph:


What seems to have happened is that the French waited until the last possible moment, then on October 30th threw in just about every lockdown idea they could think of, all at the same time. It seems to have “worked,” after a fashion; but it’s been almost as harsh as the first lockdown. Moreover, the French have had “Face covering: Required when with others” nationally since July 20th. So, that rush up to the peak from July to October, I think, is fairly good evidence that face mask wearing by the public doesn’t hamper the spread of the virus.

Note also that, as of mid-November and under stringent lockdown, Rt was still above 100%, and yet new cases were dropping.

Germany

Date

Stringency

Measures

20200807

59.72

Schools: Some closed (Regional)

20200808

56.94

Gatherings: Up to 11-100 (Regional)

20200824

59.72

Gatherings: Up to <=10 (Regional)

20200903

57.87

Schools: Recommended closed

20200904

49.54

Travel: No restrictions

20201001

46.76

International: Quarantine high-risk

20201015

56.02

Stay at home: Recommended

Travel: Recommended not to travel

20201022

57.87

Stay at home: Required with exceptions (Regional)

20201102

59.26

Workplaces: Some closed

Gatherings: Up to <=10

Stay at home: Recommended

20201110

62.04

International: Ban some arrivals

 

Current (20201129): Schools: Recommended closed, Workplaces: Some closed, Events: Mandatory cancelled, Gatherings: Up to <=10, Stay at home: Recommended, Travel: Recommended not to travel, International: Ban some arrivals, Public info: Co-ordinated, Testing: Open, Contact tracing: Comprehensive, Face covering: Required in some places.

Notes: German cases have recently all but stabilized. Here’s the new cases graph:


The most likely causes of this recent stabilization would seem to be the October 15th “Stay at home: Recommended” and “Travel: Recommended not to travel.” Germans will usually do what they are told to! The November 2nd restriction on group size, and the closure of some workplaces, have reduced Rt, but they don’t seem to have had much effect so far on case growth. And for much of November, Rt was well above 100%, but the new case counts weren’t consistently growing.

Ireland

Date

Stringency

Measures

20200808

59.72

Workplaces: Mandatory closed (Regional)

Gatherings: Up to 11-100 (Regional)

Stay at home: Required with exceptions (Regional)

Travel: Mandatory restrictions (Regional)

20200818

63.43

Events: Mandatory cancelled

20200921

52.31

Schools: Recommended closed

Workplaces: Some closed

Events: Mandatory cancelled (Regional)

Gatherings: Up to 11-100 (Regional)

Public transport: Recommended closed (Regional)

Travel: Recommended not to travel (Regional)

20201007

61.57

Schools: Recommended closed (Regional)

Events: Mandatory cancelled

Travel: Mandatory restrictions

20201021

81.48

Schools: Some closed

Workplaces: Mandatory closed

Gatherings: Up to <=10

Public transport: Recommended closed

Stay at home: Required with exceptions

Current (20201123): Schools: Some closed, Workplaces: Mandatory closed, Events: Mandatory cancelled, Gatherings: Up to <=10, Public transport: Recommended closed, Stay at home: Required with exceptions, Travel: Mandatory restrictions, International: Quarantine high-risk, Public info: Co-ordinated, Testing: If symptoms, Contact tracing: Comprehensive, Face covering: Required in some places.

Notes: The regional measures of August 8th seem to have brought the immediate problem under control. After that, nothing seemed to have much effect until October 7th. It was probably the national measures, “Travel: Mandatory restrictions” and/or the “Events: mandatory cancelled” that did the trick. And the (over?) draconian measures of October 21st have certainly brought Rt down, and to well below 100%.

Italy

Date

Stringency

Measures

20200808

50.93

International: Ban some arrivals

20200817

54.63

Workplaces: Some closed

20200914

47.22

Schools: Recommended closed

20201006

55.56

Gatherings: Up to 11-100

Public transport: Recommended closed

Contact tracing: Limited

Face covering: Required when with others

20201014

50

Public transport: Open

20201023

66.67

Schools: Some closed (Regional)

Workplaces: Some closed (Regional)

Gatherings: Up to <=10

Public transport: Recommended closed (Regional)

Stay at home: Required with exceptions (Regional)

Travel: Mandatory restrictions (Regional)

International: Quarantine high-risk

Contact tracing: Comprehensive

20201106

76.85

Schools: Some closed

Workplaces: Mandatory closed (Regional)

Stay at home: Required with exceptions

International: Ban some arrivals

20201110

79.63

Public transport: Recommended closed

Contact tracing: Limited

Current (20201125): Schools: Some closed, Workplaces: Mandatory closed (Regional), Events: Mandatory cancelled, Gatherings: Up to <=10, Public transport: Recommended closed, Stay at home: Required with exceptions, Travel: Mandatory restrictions (Regional), International: Ban some arrivals, Public info: Co-ordinated, Testing: If symptoms, Contact tracing: Limited, Face covering: Required when with others.

Notes: The August 17th closure of some workplaces did seem to have an effect. The package of measures on October 6th did have an immediate effect, but not as strong as the Italians might have hoped. October 23rd, for me, looks like the key date; and on that date, the only national measure was the restriction of gatherings to 10 or less. This looks like more evidence that restricting gathering sizes works.

Whether the strong restrictions added on November 6th have made a difference, or are simply “over the top,” I – once again – cannot tell; and it doesn’t help that the Italians haven’t reported any Rt figures since November 20th. But once again, an Rt consistently above 100% has nevertheless allowed case growth to drop significantly.

Luxembourg

Date

Stringency

Measures

20200807

31.48

Events: Recommended cancelled

Stay at home: Recommended

20200812

34.26

International: Screening

20200821

39.1

International: Ban some arrivals

20200825

43.52

Workplaces: Recommended closed

20200913

40.74

Gatherings: Up to 11-100

20200926

43.52

Gatherings: Up to <=10

20201006

43.52

Contact tracing: Limited

20201020

52.78

Schools: Recommended closed

Events: Mandatory cancelled

20201030

56.48

Stay at home: Required with exceptions

Face covering: Required when with others

20201126

60.19

Workplaces: Some closed

 

Current (20201123): Schools: Recommended closed, Workplaces: Some closed, Events: Mandatory cancelled, Gatherings: Up to <=10, Stay at home: Required with exceptions, International: Ban some arrivals, Public info: Co-ordinated, Testing: Open, Contact tracing: Limited, Face covering: Required when with others.

Notes: Because Luxembourg is a small country, its weekly case growth will tend to be more volatile than in larger countries. There were also significant adjustments to the numbers of cases in late August. Since then, a significant drop in weekly case growth seems to have started since the October 20th measures. I’m a little surprised by that, as school closures were only recommended, not mandated; perhaps the mandatory cancellation of events was a bigger factor.

The October 31st “Stay at home: Required with exceptions” also produced a drop in Rt, as you can see by the “knee” on the graph. But since then, case growth hasn’t come down much, even though Rt has continued to drop. As to the November 26th closure of some workplaces, we’ll have to wait and see.

Netherlands

Date

Stringency

Measures

20200818

50.93

Events: Recommended cancelled

Gatherings: Up to <=10

20200920

48.15

Events: Recommended cancelled (Regional)

20200929

62.04

Events: Mandatory cancelled

Travel: Recommended not to travel

20201104

65.74

Workplaces: Mandatory closed

20201122

56.48

Workplaces: Some closed

Travel: No restrictions

Current (20201122): Schools: Recommended closed, Workplaces: Some closed, Events: Mandatory cancelled, Gatherings: Up to <=10, Stay at home: Recommended, International: Ban some arrivals, Public info: Co-ordinated, Testing: If symptoms, Contact tracing: Comprehensive, Face covering: Required in some places.

Notes: The August 18th restriction on gathering size did seem to pull down the size of the next peak in case growth. How significant the recommendation to cancel events was, I don’t know. But Rt started to increase shortly afterwards, not to decrease!

The September 29th measures, events cancellation and recommendation not to travel, did seem to get the cases coming down at last. Rt also started to drop significantly, a week or so afterwards.

All was well for a while; and by the middle of November, Rt had dropped well below 100%. But the November 4th closure of workplaces seems to have had no beneficial effect at all. In fact, since the middle of November, Dutch cases have been dropping, but more slowly than before.

Portugal

Date

Stringency

Measures

20200801

65.28

Face covering: Required outside the home (Regional)

20200810

66.2

Events: Mandatory cancelled

Stay at home: Required with exceptions (Regional)

20200825

55.09

Schools: Recommended closed

Workplaces: Some closed (Regional)

Stay at home: No measures

20200904

56.94

Workplaces: Some closed

20200915

58.8

Stay at home: Recommended (Regional)

20201002

56.94

Workplaces: Some closed (Regional)

20201023

60.65

Stay at home: Required with exceptions (Regional)

20201024

66.2

Schools: Mandatory closed (Regional)

20201030

74.54

Travel: Mandatory restrictions (Regional)

20201104

66.2

Travel: No restrictions

20201106

60.65

Schools: Recommended closed

20201114

69.91

Workplaces: Mandatory closed (Regional)

20201116

66.2

Workplaces: Some closed (Regional)

20201121

69.91

Workplaces: Mandatory closed (Regional)

20201123

66.2

Workplaces: Some closed (Regional)

Current (20201123): Schools: Recommended closed, Workplaces: Some closed (Regional), Events: Mandatory cancelled, Gatherings: Up to <=10 (Regional), Public transport: Recommended closed, Stay at home: Required with exceptions (Regional), International: Ban some arrivals, Public info: Co-ordinated, Testing: Open, Contact tracing: Limited, Face covering: Required outside the home.

Notes: Since early September, all the lockdowns have been regional. They have been quite stringent. And they do seem to be getting on top of the virus, albeit slowly.

The peaks and troughs in Rt in Portugal don’t seem to correspond to any particular lockdown measures being introduced or released at the time. Rt did, however, drop during September, a period when some workplaces were closed nationally. And, though Rt is still well above 100%, new cases have started to drop significantly. The Portuguese must be doing something right; but I have no idea what it is!

Spain

Date

Stringency

Measures

20200810

60.65

Stay at home: Recommended (Regional)

20200814

62.5

Workplaces: Some closed

20200907

60.65

Schools: Some closed (Regional)

20201007

64.35

Schools: Mandatory closed (Regional)

20201013

64.35

Contact tracing: Comprehensive

Face covering: Required outside the home

20201022

58.8

Schools: Recommended closed

20201025

71.3

Events: Mandatory cancelled

Gatherings: Up to <=10

Stay at home: Required with exceptions

Travel: Mandatory restrictions

Current (20201129): Schools: Recommended closed, Workplaces: Some closed, Events: Mandatory cancelled, Gatherings: Up to <=10, Stay at home: Required with exceptions, Travel: Mandatory restrictions, International: Ban some arrivals, Public info: Co-ordinated, Testing: If symptoms, Contact tracing: Comprehensive, Face covering: Required outside the home.

Notes: The two sets of lockdowns during July do seem to have had an effect on both Rt and weekly case growth, but they were regional only. Another “sea change” seems to have taken place around October 25th. The measures introduced then were event cancellations, reduced gathering size, stay at home, and travel restrictions. All four of these have been seen to be effective elsewhere, so the Spaniards are probably on the right track as far as dealing with the virus is concerned. Here, too, we see Rt consistently above 100% during November, and yet a significant drop in new cases.

The face covering requirement introduced on October 13th – the most stringent in all the 14 countries – does not appear to have had any effect on Rt. And any effects it might have had on case growth will have been eclipsed by the measures of October 25th.

Sweden

Date

Stringency

Measures

20200817

55.56

Schools: Recommended closed

20201110

58.33

Travel: Recommended not to travel (Regional)

20201111

50

Gatherings: No restrictions

20201124

53.7

Workplaces: Some closed

Current (20201124): Schools: Recommended closed, Workplaces: Some closed, Events: Mandatory cancelled, Public transport: Recommended closed, Stay at home: Recommended, Travel: Recommended not to travel (Regional), International: Ban some arrivals, Public info: Co-ordinated, Testing: If symptoms, Contact tracing: Limited.

Notes: The weekly case growth has come down since the end of October, with no particular lockdown measure being an obvious cause. However, Rt – which is unusually smooth, like Denmark’s – has been rising since July, and now seems to have just about peaked. The November 24th closure of some workplaces hasn’t been in force long enough yet to draw any conclusions.

Switzerland

Date

Stringency

Measures

20200917

43.06

Face covering: Required when with others

20200918

43.06

Testing: If symptoms

20201010

33.8

Schools: Recommended closed (Regional)

Events: Recommended cancelled (Regional)

International: Quarantine high-risk

20201019

35.19

Gatherings: Up to 11-100

20201020

40.74

Events: Recommended cancelled

International: Ban some arrivals

20201029

45.37

Workplaces: Some closed

Events: Mandatory cancelled (Regional)

20201102

49.07

Schools: Some closed (Regional)

Current (20201123): Schools: Some closed (Regional), Workplaces: Some closed, Events: Mandatory cancelled (Regional), Gatherings: Up to 11-100, International: Ban some arrivals, Public info: Co-ordinated, Testing: If symptoms, Contact tracing: Comprehensive, Face covering: Required when with others.

Notes: This is an odd one. Rt went up enormously during September and early October, perhaps due to the re-opening of schools after the summer break. (There was a similar rise back in May, when schools re-opened after the first lockdown). Weekly case growth and Rt have been coming down almost continuously since then, and Rt is now down almost to 100%. Yet there was no national lockdown measure in early October to trigger that!

New cases peaked and started coming down around the time of the October 29th closure of some workplaces. Looking at Rt, there is a “knee” at precisely that time; so perhaps this measure added to the already existing downward trends in Rt and weekly case growth.

UK

UK wide measures


Date

Stringency

Measures

20200801

69.91

Travel: Mandatory restrictions (Regional)

20200813

66.2

Schools: Some closed (Regional)

20200830

66.2

Contact tracing: Limited

20200901

64.35

Schools: Recommended closed

20200914

65.74

Gatherings: Up to <=10

20200924

67.59

Stay at home: Recommended

20201012

60.19

Stay at home: Recommended (Regional)

Travel: Recommended not to travel (Regional)

20201019

65.74

Schools: Mandatory closed (Regional)

20201022

67.59

Stay at home: Recommended

20201023

75

Stay at home: Required with exceptions (Regional)

Travel: Mandatory restrictions (Regional)

20201106

75

Workplaces: Mandatory closed (Regional)

Stay at home: Recommended

Travel: Recommended not to travel

International: Ban some arrivals

20201110

63.89

Schools: Open

Workplaces: Some closed

Current (20201116): Workplaces: Some closed, Events: Mandatory cancelled, Gatherings: Up to <=10, Public transport: Recommended closed, Stay at home: Recommended, Travel: Recommended not to travel, International: Ban some arrivals, Public info: Co-ordinated, Testing: If symptoms, Contact tracing: Limited, Face covering: Required in some places.

Notes: The UK seems to have the best correlation between Rt and weekly case growth of all the countries. There was a sea-change from a rising to a falling Rt trend some time in September, only broken by the huge spike in early October. “Gatherings: Up to <=10” and “Stay at home: Recommended” may have helped with this.

Here is the new cases graph for the UK as a whole:


The “tiered” local lockdowns in place in the second half of October seemed to have just about stabilized the new cases. When a new national lockdown was introduced in early November, cases suddenly went up again! But they peaked around November 13th, and have been going down ever since.

The UK data is particularly difficult to analyze, not only because of the tiers system (a version of which comes back into force on December 2nd), but also because England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales each have their own separate additional lockdown rules.

England (84% of UK population)

Date

Stringency

Measures

20200801

66.2

Stay at home: No measures

Travel: Mandatory restrictions (Regional)

20200827

66.2

Face covering: Required in some places

20200901

62.5

Schools: Recommended closed

20200914

63.89

Gatherings: Up to <=10

20200925

63.89

Face covering: Required in some places

20201012

65.74

Stay at home: Recommended (Regional)

20201105

74.07

Stay at home: Required with exceptions

Travel: Mandatory restrictions

20201117

66.67

Stay at home: Required with exceptions (Regional)

Travel: Recommended not to travel

20201130

68.52

Schools: Some closed (Regional)

Differences from UK wide measures (20201130): Schools: Some closed (Regional), Stay at home: Required with exceptions (Regional), International: Quarantine high-risk.

Notes: The August 27th “Face covering: Required in some places” almost exactly coincided with the start of the second wave. And after the September 25th tightening, cases went soaring! Not good evidence for the efficacy of face coverings. And despite “Schools: Recommended closed,” most schools did in fact re-open, and the results are visible in the cases graph.

Of the November measures, the most likely to have brought about the drop in cases were the stay-at-home requirement and the travel restrictions.

Northern Ireland (3% of UK population)

Date

Stringency

Measures

20200810

62.96

Face covering: Required in some places

20200824

57.41

Schools: Some closed (Regional)

20200831

55.56

Schools: Recommended closed

20200911

54.17

Gatherings: Up to <=10 (Regional)

20200922

55.56

Gatherings: Up to <=10

20200925

55.56

Face covering: Required in some places

20201014

77.78

Schools: Mandatory closed

Stay at home: Recommended

Travel: Mandatory restrictions

20201102

68.52

Schools: Some closed

Travel: Recommended not to travel

Contact tracing: Limited

20201110

66.67

Schools: Some closed (Regional)

Differences from UK wide measures (20201123): Schools: Some closed (Regional), International: Quarantine high-risk.

Notes: Due to the low proportion of the population, these measures are unlikely to have contributed much to the UK wide picture.

Scotland (8% of UK population)

Date

Stringency

Measures

 

20200805

71.3

Travel: Mandatory restrictions (Regional)

20200817

67.59

Schools: Recommended closed

20200821

73.15

Stay at home: Required, minimal exceptions (Regional)

20200824

70.37

Travel: Recommended not to travel

20200831

64.81

Stay at home: Recommended

20200923

64.81

Contact tracing: Comprehensive

 

20200925

64.81

Face covering: Required in some places

 

20201004

64.81

Contact tracing: Limited

 

20201102

67.59

Travel: Mandatory restrictions (Regional)

 

20201117

64.81

Events: Mandatory cancelled (Regional)

 

Differences from UK wide measures (20201123): Schools: Recommended closed, Events: Mandatory cancelled (Regional), Travel: Mandatory restrictions (Regional), International: Quarantine high-risk.

Notes: Due to the low proportion of the population, these measures are unlikely to have contributed much to the UK wide picture.

Wales (5% of UK population)

Date

Stringency

Measures

20200816

59.26

Stay at home: No measures

20200901

55.56

Schools: Recommended closed

20200908

62.5

Gatherings: Up to <=10 (Regional)

Travel: Mandatory restrictions (Regional)

20200914

62.5

Face covering: Required in some places

20200925

62.5

Face covering: Required in some places

20200928

66.2

Stay at home: Recommended

20201013

67.59

Gatherings: Up to <=10

20201016

70.37

Travel: Mandatory restrictions

20201023

77.78

Workplaces: Mandatory closed

Stay at home: Required with exceptions

20201109

64.81

Workplaces: Some closed

Stay at home: Recommended

Travel: Recommended not to travel

20201117

64.81

Contact tracing: Limited

20201123

66.67

Schools: Some closed (Regional)

Differences from UK wide measures (20201123): Schools: Some closed (Regional), International: Quarantine high-risk.

Notes: Due to the low proportion of the population, these measures are unlikely to have contributed much to the UK wide picture.

Some tentative conclusions

In many cases, it’s hard to establish a strong correlation between success against the virus and any one particular lockdown measure. Part of the reason is that governments like to make lots of different regulations all starting on the same date, so it’s hard to determine which worked and which didn’t. The following conclusions, therefore, can only be tentative.

While schools are well known to be a breeding ground for the virus, I couldn’t find any evidence that school closures, either recommended or mandated, have on their own caused a significant drop in case growth anywhere during the second wave.

Workplace closures appear not to have been beneficial in Belgium or the Netherlands, and their effectiveness in Germany is doubtful. There is, however, some evidence that they did make a difference in Italy; and perhaps in Portugal and Switzerland too.

In most of the countries, large scale events have been (and still are) cancelled. But when a country has relaxed this measure, re-imposing it often seems to have had a beneficial effect on new case counts; at least in Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Spain. But there seems to have been no clear benefit from re-imposing this measure in Belgium.

The reduction in maximum gathering size to 10 or less seems to have been effective in Austria, Belgium, Italy, Spain and the UK. The only country where it doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference is the Netherlands.

Public transport closures do not appear to have been a significant factor during the second wave of the epidemic.

Stay at home requirements look to have had a significant effect. Even just recommending stay-at-home has produced effects in Austria, Germany and the UK. Mandating stay-at-home seems to have made a difference in Belgium and Spain, and perhaps in Luxembourg.

Travel restrictions, too, do make a difference. Even a recommendation not to travel has had beneficial effects in Germany and the Netherlands. Mandatory restrictions on travel have been effective in Ireland, and arguably in Spain. And a mixture of the two has, probably, had some effect in the UK.

The only countries which changed their international travel rules in October or November are Germany, Switzerland and Italy. I would expect that the effects of these changes will have been negligible; since international travel bans and quarantines would have far more effect in times when the virus is at a low level in a country, than when – as now – it is higher than in the rest of the world.

As to face masks for the general public, evidence from Belgium, France, Spain and the UK suggests that they have no beneficial effects. Indeed, it’s not implausible, given the data, that requiring the public to wear face coverings actually helps to spread the virus.