COVID-19: How many deaths will it take…

In the immortal words of his Bob-ness

How many deaths will it take till he knows, that too many people have died?

Personally I am in shock at the ongoing COVID death toll – currently over 70,000 but almost certain to exceed 100,000.

On the first day of this new year I have tried to gain some perspective on what has happened so far, what is happening now, and how things might evolve in the coming weeks and months

The story so far…

The story so far can be summed up in a single graph showing positive coronavirus (CV) tests, hospital admissions and deaths.

Click for a larger version. The graph shows 7-day retrospective averages of three quantities plotted on a logarithmic scale versus the number of days since 1st January 2020: The number of positive CV tests per day, the number of hospital admissions per day, and the number of deaths per day

We see the initial rapid rise in deaths in late March increasing to roughly 1000 people per day in mid-April.

Then we saw the effect of Lockdown#1 – with hospital admissions and deaths falling exponentially (a straight line on the logarithmic graph) for approximately 100 days.

From Mid-May onwards, the CV tests were widespread enough that the decline in positive tests followed the same exponential decay – halving time 21 days – as admissions and deaths.

Up until the start of July the virus was in decline.

There then followed a two-month period of confusion, where rising CV Positives were not matched by rising hospital admissions and deaths.

In retrospect it is clear that the virus was spreading amongst younger people who were less likely to be hospitalised or die.

Failure to act decisively at this point was – in retrospect – a mistake.

  • A further two months of restrictions would have substantially eliminated the virus from endemic circulation.
  • The incidence in September would have been low enough to Track, Trace, and Isolate, to function and for schools to re-open in relative normality.

Then in September, cases and admissions and death rates rose exponentially.

Failure to act decisively at this point was a mistake that is not just clear in retrospect: it was pointed out at the time. This choice by Government to ignore SAGE advice has resulted in the entirely predictable deaths of tens of thousands of people so far.

Instead the virus was allowed to spread and we now have the current situation in which the Government appear to be unwilling or powerless to act with sufficient strength to drive down viral prevalence.

They seem to be hoping that the roll-out of the vaccine will bring the COVID nightmare to an end. And this will probably happen.

But failure to act during December 2020 has allowed the viral prevalence to exceed 1% across wide swathes of the UK resulting in many more deaths than necessary.

…In the next few weeks…

I can hardly bear to look at the data at the moment. But as I write, despite Tier 4 measures or similar across most of the UK, there is no sign yet that the virus has been contained.

We can peer a short way into the future by assuming that 24% of people admitted to hospital die after 7 days.

We can peer a little further ahead by assuming that 2% of people testing positive for CV will die after 17 days.

The graph below shows these estimates of future deaths as dotted lines alongside the actual deaths so far.

Click for a larger version. Daily Deaths. The graph shows 7-day retrospective averages of three quantities plotted on a logarithmic scale versus the number of days since 1st January 2020: The number of deaths per day (continuous black line) and then two estimates for the number of deaths per day based on the number of positive CV tests 17 days earlier (dotted red line – – –)  and the number of hospital admissions 7 days earlier (dotted yellow line – – –) .

The basic structure of the second wave was well-predicted by both these estimates. But it is curious that the fall in the number of positive cases after Lockdown#2 ‘should’ have resulted in a significant fall in both admissions and deaths – but these falls did not materialise.

I cannot explain this, but one hypothesis would be that people were avoiding getting tests for fear that if they tested positive, they might then be obliged to alter their Christmas arrangements.

  • Looking at hospital admissions it looks as though death rates will rise to more than 600 per day in one week from now.
  • Looking at positive cases it looks as though death rates will rise above 800 per day in mid-January.

These deaths look to be ‘baked in’ and do not include the effect of any mixing – albeit pretty limited – at Christmas or New Year.

Looking further ahead

It is difficult to imagine one’s way to the end of January 2021. There will presumably be further restrictions, and possibly a full lockdown.

On the two graphs above I have penciled-in a basic structure of what we might expect based on the following assumptions for the state of play at the end of January 2021.

  • Hospital admissions  of 2500 per day: roughly the same as now.
  • Positive cases of 50,000 people per day: roughly the same as now.
  • Deaths of 1000 people per day – where we seem to be headed.
  • The rate of decline is the same as in Lockdown#1 – i.e. quantities halved every 21 days.

Of course there is real hope that the vaccines now available will make a significant difference over the next few months.

If administered at 1 million doses a week then the 12.9 million people over 60 should be vaccinated by Easter (4th April). A significant fraction of other vulnerable groups will also likely be immunised.

If all goes as planned, both the death rate and the rate of hospitilisations should fall much more rapidly than I have shown.

And so… 

And so it looks like sometime in the summer life will return to relative normality. Beer will be drunk in pub gardens with friends.

However I would not be surprised if there were further problems that impeded this expectation for any one of a thousand reasons.

Reasons might include difficulty producing the vaccine, the actions of vaccine refuse-niks, civil unrest due to widespread hardship and homelessness. Or possibly further viral mutations – or a new virus! I invite you write in your own ‘plot twist’.

And even when normality is resumed I would not expect life to ever be quite ‘normal’ again. As his Bob-ness said: “too many people have died.”

Dear reader: I trust the late stages of the COVID-19 pandemic will leave you and yours unharmed, wherever you are.

 

3 Responses to “COVID-19: How many deaths will it take…”

  1. abc Says:

    “Failure to act decisively at this point was a mistake that is not just clear in retrospect: it was pointed out at the time. This choice by Government to ignore SAGE advice has resulted in the entirely predictable deaths of tens of thousands of people so far.”

    I hope the next Government (hopefully not a Tory one!) will start an independent investigation that may bring BoJo & his band of incompetents to court for their incompetency and insane decisions.

  2. protonsforbreakfast Says:

    Ahhhhh. I would wish for that too. But frankly, I am not hopeful. Stay Safe: M

  3. restaurants in southall Says:

    I’m not that much of an internet reader to be honest but your blogs really nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your website to come back down the road.

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