Arguments have been raging in social media about the accuracy of the reports we, the public, are being given about Covid and the oncoming “‘second wave”.
We have been told by the government’s advisors that if we do nothing the second wave could be worse than the first, with infection increasing exponentially followed by the NHS under renewed pressure and a dramatically increasing death rate. One member of the advisory group, SAGE, has even suggested that the increased restrictions announced by the Prime Minister on Tuesday not only fail to go far enough, but fall so dramatically short that, we have to assume, the pandemic wave to come will be worse than anything we can imagine.
All this is supported by pages and, in the press briefings, screens, of statistics, all of which the main media, especially the BBC, have devoured with apparent glee.
But then, to quote the old saying, there are lies, damned lies and statistics.
Certainly Covid-19 as a world-wide virus exists, and certainly it is highly infectious. It is also, as with other respiratory illnesses, seasonal with the most acute periods being spring and autumn. But do the figures really require a complete shutdown of all business and social activity? And is lockdown, mask wearing and social distancing really an answer?
Back in the spring, little was known about the virus and the restrictions introduced then were designed to flatten the curve of the graph usually followed by this type of virus (Spanish flu, bird flu, swine flu are all examples) which shows a rapid steep incline to a peak as the virus takes hold, followed by a more gentle decline as it tails off.
The government said they would follow the science, and science predicted little short of Armageddon if nothing was done. The result, as we know, was lockdown, a massive blow to industry, commerce and jobs, a delay in all other medical work (itself, resulting in further deaths) and a disaster for the country’s economy which will take years to recover.
Statistics (yes, them again) put forward by a number of eminent authorities both in the UK and abroad, suggest that in fact the infection and death rate differed little from a number of previous years, following a similar pattern, and was indeed below the figures recorded 2000.
The second wave was easily predicted because that is the way a virus works, with the initial tsunami being followed by a wavelet or two until there is barely a ripple.
The reported death rate on September 22 was 37, up only marginally from the beginning of the month and with the weekly average remaining more or less constant. But the “scientists” are advising immediate precautionary measures, often going much further, and increasing the damage to our economy and general wellbeing, than the government, thank goodness, are prepared to accept at the moment.
The daily rate of infection is now a little over 6,000, up significantly from last week. But are either of these figures an accurate reflection of an increase in the virus? I would suggest that the answer is that it is not, and for the following reasons:
Research into the UK by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (European CDC) which has looked at the effect of pubs re-opening since June has found that despite an estimated 450 million pub visits during which no masks have been worn and social distancing was, at best, variable, the curve of the virus overall has continued to flatten. The surge in a few areas has been found to be largely (but I accept, not entirely) due to other, mainly family-orientated social activities, rather than general mixing in the pub.
There is also the question of the death rate. Recorded deaths are reported as deaths where the deceased has tested positive for Covid-19 within the previous 28 days. So if someone tests positive and then has, for example, a medically-unconnected heart attack and dies, they are on the Covid list despite the fact that they did not die of it.
Returning to the numbers of positive tests, the more tests that are carried out, the more positive cases of the infection will be found. But then there arises the question of the accuracy of these “positive” findings.
Dr Andrew Bamji, an occasional and well informed contributor to Rye News, has written to our MP putting the case for concern about the value of positive finding statistics. With his permission I quote a section of his letter here:
“I am a lockdown agnostic and have been blogging about coronavirus since February. I have written to you previously regarding what I consider the alarming lack of focus on the treatment of the severe consequences of SARS-CoV-2 infection, namely Covid-19. However I am now alarmed by the misinformation on supposedly rising numbers of cases, which is provoking new lockdowns. This is generated by a failure to understand the statistics of testing. Put simply, if the false positive rate of a test is 0.8%, then for every 10,000 people tested there will be 80 false positives. The ONS (Office of National Statistics) figures predict a prevalence of 1 case per 1000. This would generate 10 positive tests per 10,000.
“Therefore one expects 90 positive tests, but only 10 of these are real positives. Thus there is a huge overestimation of the real numbers of cases (I would add that if you have two positive tests then the likelihood that you have a real positive jumps to over 90%).
“The argument is elegantly set out at https://lockdownsceptics.org/lies-damned-lies-and-health-statistics-the-deadly-danger-of-false-positives/
“There is significant backing for the veracity of this conclusion.
See https://www.hdruk.ac.uk/projects/false-positives/ and https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.04.26.20080911v3.full.pdf
“What is worse, there has been no scientific rebuttal of this conclusion from the government’s scientific advisors. I conclude that the analysis above is correct, that estimates of new cases are grossly overstated – by a factor of nine – and that the extremely damaging effects of further lockdowns will be heightened by continuing reliance on bad science, as they are not necessary.
“The mismatch between what one expects from ONS figures and the numbers of recorded positive tests suggests that the large majority of current numbers of reported new cases from community testing are false positives. Given this, are further lockdowns justifiable? And should not repeat testing of positive subjects become mandatory.”
He adds further that it is the opinion of a group of respected physicians led from
Oxford (Professors Sunetra Gupta, Carl Heneghan and Karol Sikora) that targeted
protective measures are more appropriate than blanket ones
Should we therefore obey the restrictions that are being imposed on us? Yes, of course we should, if for no other reason than we will now be breaking the law, and subjected to heavy fines, if we do not.
But are the restrictions truly necessary? Will they control the virus, and does it indeed need to be controlled? Or should we treat it as just another seasonal version of flu, take the usual sensible precautions, vaccinate as and when a vaccine is available, but otherwise get on with our normal lives?
For those who want more detail on Covid-19, see Andrew Bamji’s blog.
Image Credits: CDC / Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS https://phil.cdc.gov/Details.aspx?pid=23311.