Stay Safe

Make sense of the following information taken from the Office for National Statistics on October 26th, 2020:

There are over 10,000 deaths in a typical week in the UK at this time of year.

The current number is around 2% higher than the 5-year average i.e. around 200 extra deaths per week.

4.4% of UK deaths mention Covid-19 somewhere on the death certificate. So Covid-19 seems to be raising the death rate by between 2% and 4.4%. The elderly are disproportionately afflicted, the over 80s accounting for more than 50% of Covid-19 deaths.

The World Health Organization gives the UK a 44,745 cumulative total of Covid-19 deaths.

The UK population size is 66.65 million.

44,745 is 0.067% of 66.65 million.

Over 500,000 (0.75%) people in the UK die each year of other causes. Treatment of many of these causes has been severely disrupted by the skewing of resources to matters Covid.

Current testing suggests around 0.79% of the population currently have Covid-19 i.e. 99.21% do not.

It’s not so much the number of deaths that generates alarm; it’s the additional impact on NHS capacity that they bring. ICUs can fill up rapidly.

A small fraction of the 0.79% infected will need medical attention, and that threatens ICU capacity. A policy response is required.

The policy response is two-pronged:

  • restrict social contact between between all people, 99.21% of whom do not have Covid. Regulating social interaction at the national level is the giant lever with which to regulate the flow through the tiny ICU valve.
  • Hope that a vaccine becomes available to inject herd immunity.

Other ways have been suggested e.g. looking after the vulnerable, increasing ICU capacity and aggressive testing (not inefficient contact tracing) to squash any outbreaks. Educate people as to the risks, trust them and let them get on with their lives within a minimum of restrictions.

Other things to note:

  • We are not all in this together.
  • People affected by closure are losing income and even jobs
  • The people making the closure decisions are not.
    • MPs did not get furloughed or made redundant even when they could not do their job – attend Parliament and perform constituency surgeries.
    • They got a pay rise instead.
    • People employed in the public sector – in the NHS, the police, fire brigade, armed forces, local authorities etc – have lost neither work nor income. Indeed, some are busier than ever – have more social purpose – due to the pandemic and some are better off as overtime and bonuses have been paid.
  • TV presenters and commentators earning 6-figure salaries before the pandemic are still earning 6-figure salaries.
  • The restrictions are regressive and bring costs as well as benefits:
    • Treatments and scans for a whole range of illnesses have been badly disrupted. The healthy are largely unscathed.
    • Work, social mixing and family life have been severely disrupted. Those at the bottom of the income and employment ladders are worst affected.
    • Education at all levels has been badly disrupted. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are most at risk.
    • Internationally, the decline in economic activity disproportionately disadvantages poorer counties less able to withstand economic shocks.
    • Trade has been hit by border closures. Crops have not been harvested. Some that have been harvested have been destroyed as markets and the routes to them have closed. This will affect hunger levels.
  • These costs have not been, cannot be, quantified.
  • Column one contains simple, startling numbers of Covid infections and deaths.
  • There is no column two quantifying policy costs with which column one can be compared.
  • For the decision makers, the personal costs are close to zero and easily overlooked. If closing parts of the economy resulted in 10% of MPs being made redundant and 40% being furloughed, would the policy response be the same?