COVID 19: Wave#3. 10,000 deaths

Friends, I last wrote about the pandemic six and half weeks ago on August 29th. At that point the COVID third wave had killed around 4,300 people.

Since then, the disease has been killing just over 100 people per day. And as the death toll ticks over the 10,000 mark, it’s probably a good time to look and ask: what is happening?

Click the image for a larger versions. Logarithmic graph showing positive caseshospital admissions and deaths since the start of the pandemic. The bold horizontal dotted lines are to help one reference the situation 1 year ago. The blue arrows show the dates of recent ‘opening’ events. The green dotted line shows an extrapolation from the first week of June. The blue dotted line shows an extrapolation of trends at the start of September, doubling every 42 days. Also highlighted in purple are the Euro finals, and the dates of returns to school and university in 2020 and 2021.

Compared with a year ago…

There are currently:

  • Almost 40,000 cases per day (x 3 compared with ~ 15,000 per day at this time last year).
  • Around 800 admissions per day (roughly the same as this time last year).
  • Just over 100 deaths per day (roughly the same as this time last year)

So nominally everything is the same or worse than last year!

But last year the epidemic was in a phase of exponential growth doubling every 11 days or so.

This year, things are more-or-less stable.

What does ‘stable’ mean?

  • The epidemic is still with us– more than 30,000 people per day are being infected.
  • The prevalence of infected people has been roughly constant for roughly 10 weeks.

By ‘stable’, I mean that the epidemic overall, is not in a phase of exponential growth or exponential decline. But these ‘stable’ statistics reflect a dynamic balance between different factors.

By this I mean that the factors which reduce transmission (masks, social distancing, vaccination, acquired immunity) are collectively sufficient to prevent increasing numbers of cases. But not sufficient to reduce prevalence.

The disease prevalence is high – more than 1% among many sub-populations – so anything which affects this balance could cause the epidemic to rapidly shift into a phase with exponential growth.

This could be an increase in indoor gatherings, a decline in the percentage of people wearing masks, or other small changes in behaviour.

I was happily surprised that the return to school in September did not have a large effect – despite many infections in schools.

And similarly I have been surprised that we have not seen (or at least not yet seen) a signal from the return to Universities in October.

However, the autumn has been mild so far, and it could be that the onset of winter coupled with ever more ‘normal’ activities could tip the dynamic balance in favour of exponential growth.

Factors against this would be the slowly-growing vaccination rate among young people, and the large number of previously-infected people with acquired immunity.

My expectation – for what it is worth – is that the prevalence (as evidenced by the number of cases per day) will grow as we go into winter. And there is the potential for exponential growth.

What to do?

Back in August I said “I don’t know!“. And I still don’t know. And indeed, what is ‘advisable’ doesn’t seem to matter to this government.

My guess is that if the death rate and hospitalisation rates remain similar to current rates, then ‘people’ will accept almost any level of infection rates. – no matter what the eventual harm from Long COVID, or the risk of generating further variants.

But if death and hospitalisation rates rise to the point where the health service is even more critically stressed than it is now. Or if the death rate rises much above 170 per day – 10% of normal death rates. Then further restrictions will become inevitable, even if the doubling time of the epidemic is very slow.

However my recent experiences – some of them traumatic – have led me to believe that large groups of people are extraordinarily and aggressively unsympathetic to other people’s caution, and would disregard any restrictions.

As we stare into the coming winter, I find it very hard to see how the epidemic will evolve; how the government will respond or how people will respond.

Let’s hope that the winter is kind to us all.

2 Responses to “COVID 19: Wave#3. 10,000 deaths”

  1. 171indianroad Says:

    What is the correlation between age, vaccination status and hospital?

    • protonsforbreakfast Says:

      I don’t have that data.

      But as I understand it, almost everyone becoming seriously ill is unvaccinated.

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