Friday, 19 February 2021

COVID-19: Local Report, February 16th, 2021

Until now, all the reports I have done on the COVID-19 virus have been at a national and international level, comparing different countries’ performances against the virus. Today, I’m going to focus on new COVID cases reported over the past few months. And, particularly, on a small swathe of South-East England around my home.

A few weeks ago, I found a convenient source of data on new cases in England, broken down by borough. It is here: The data shown is weekly, in units of cases per 100,000 population over the course of a week. That means I have to multiply by 10/7 to convert to my preferred unit, cases per million per day (weekly averaged). Each data point covers a week from Wednesday to Tuesday. The data begins from the week ending October 13th, and is usually (but not always!) there by the Thursday after the Tuesday to which it refers.

The map below shows the borough in which I live (Waverley) in blue, and its seven neighbours in yellow:

Starting with the big borough to the north, and moving round clockwise, they are: Guildford, Mole Valley, Horsham, Chichester, East Hampshire, Hart and Rushmoor. The boroughs are all of roughly similar populations, but they have very different population densities:

Here are the cases per million per day, up to February 16th:

Look at the far right of that graph. All eight boroughs are now down below the WHO’s “endemic” threshold of 200 cases per million per day, which is the point below which unlocking ought to be very seriously considered. This is true even for Rushmoor, which has been by far the hardest hit borough on the area. Note, also, that the case counts labelled with 16-Feb-21 actually refer to the week from February 10th to 16th inclusive. A snapshot taken today would probably give substantially lower figures again.

Now compare the case counts on the far right of the graph with those on the far left. We’re pretty much back where we were in October, aren’t we? And, prior to the “circuit-breaker” lockdown which began on November 5th, my borough and the ones to the south of it were in Tier 1; the rest were in Tier 2.

And yet, SAGE, the advisory body whose antics during September and October led to the November lockdown in the first place, were even in late January wittering about “a third huge spike in deaths unless inoculation cuts transmission significantly.” The Telegraph article at quotes one of their sub-committees as saying: “even in a best-case scenario, in which vaccines stop 85 per cent of transmission in those vaccinated, lockdown would have to be kept in place until the end of May to prevent another significant spike in deaths.”

This is typical of SAGE. When you look hard at it, SAGE seems to be just a clique of “woke” alarmists. And it seems less interested in its supposed remit of advising government on scientific matters, than it is in directing government policy over the epidemic. Moreover, SAGE’s policy of choice seems to be: Lock down for the sake of locking down! I wrote a fairly detailed analysis of the composition and behaviour of SAGE up until the middle of October here:

But I have news for SAGE, for Johnson, and for all other pro-lockdown junkies: UK weekly averaged COVID deaths have been on a downward trend for a whole month now!

As to the Reproduction Rate (R-rate) of the virus, that has been below the “magic threshold” of 1 continuously since about January 9th. It is now down around 0.7, a level not seen since the “second wave” began all the way back at the beginning of July. As shown here:

By the way, that’s evidence that the lockdowns since late November worked! But whether such a high level of lockdown was actually necessary is debatable, since the improvement in the R-rate began in the middle of December, well before the third and heaviest lockdown began. I’ll give Johnson the benefit of the doubt on that one for now. Though I will review it when next I come to assess the UK’s COVID performance against its European neighbours.

But the message that leaps out from the graphs above is that there is no good reason to continue the current level of lockdown on a national scale. The obvious and sane course of action is to return within days to the tiered lockdown system that was in place during October and (briefly) during December. Put individual areas into tiers appropriate to their latest case counts, have “Tier Four” (effectively, a local lockdown) available if necessary, and we should be fine.

And yet, Johnson is procrastinating, if not also prevaricating. Looking at, it looks as if nothing at all will happen until at least March 8th. And they say: “Lockdown is unlikely to be eased significantly until daily COVID cases are in the hundreds, compared with more than 10,000 a day now.” If the current week-to-week decline in the number of new cases (which has been at about 28% since the New Year) continues unchanged, that would take about 8 weeks from now by my calculation. And yet, they are talking about schools and shops possibly re-opening in March! The two, put together, make no sense at all. Meanwhile, there is talk of another blitz on face mask wearing and social distancing when the shops do re-open, just as there has been in the supermarkets since January 11th.

It looks as if all the good work that so many of our MPs – including Jeremy Hunt, my own MP – did back in the autumn in order to prevent SAGE overcooking the goose, has now been thrown away. Since November, Johnson’s policy on COVID seems to have been entirely dictated by SAGE. It’s hard to avoid the thought that, since Dominic Cummings left, Johnson has only been listening to the last person or committee who talked to him. And SAGE will rank very high indeed in Johnson’s mind on that score.

This is no way to run a country. We want our lives back! We want our economy back. We want our shops back. We want our pubs back. We want our social lives back. We want to be rid of those damned masks. We don’t want any “vaccine passport,” except perhaps as a temporary measure for international travel only. We, the ordinary people of England, have been patient – too patient, I think – for almost a year now. And our patience is nearing its end.


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