COVID-19: My insights have become irrelevant.

Click Image for a larger version. Logarithmic graph showing positive caseshospital admissions and deaths since the start of the pandemic. Numbers in panels highlight the numbers at the peak of Wave#2 in January 2021 and the peak of Wave#3 in January 2022. This pandemic has been going on for a long time and my ability to say anything useful about it is declining.

Friends, it has been just over two years since the UK locked-down in order to minimise the harm caused by the first wave of COVID-19.

Then…

In the following months I retired from my job, and devoted some of my new-found time to charting the development of the pandemic.

Since then I have intermittently deployed my scientific superpower to try to understand what was happening.

My ‘superpower’ was the ability to plot data on logarithmic graphs and spot exponential growth and decline in disease indicators: cases, hospital admissions, and deaths.

In the early data, the number of positive COVID tests was a good predictor for the number of COVID hospital admissions about 10 days later. And admissions were in turn a a good predictor for the number of COVID deaths about two weeks later still.

As the pandemic dragged on through 2020, I felt that what I was doing was helpful. At least, one or two people told me so.

Now… 

But two years on, things are more complicated.

After multiple vaccinations, multiple variants and strains, the different partial immunity that people have acquired from vaccination or prior infection, and very wide variation in people’s behaviour, there is no longer a simple story to tell about the dynamics of the disease.

For example, the disease is now as prevalent in the UK as it is has ever been – roughly 1 in 25 people are currently infected. Hospital admissions have been rising for roughly 3 weeks and are now around 2,000 people per day.

And finally, after a long delay, the rate at which people are dying is increasing: currently roughly 130 people are dying from the disease each day.

The new flu?… 

A few weeks ago, I asked if COVID had become ‘like flu’. And concluded that in terms of deaths it had. The death rate from COVID is around 10% of the roughly 10,000 people that die each week from all causes.

But at this time of year, we would expect flu cases to be reducing.

And flu does not cause ‘long flu’ in the way that COVID gives rise to Long-COVID. I have not studied Long-COVID statistics, but post-viral ‘syndromes’ are actually not unusual.

For example, I had not understood that when people are infected with polio virus, around 70% of infections are asymptomatic. And in those with symptoms, the disease is usually mild. The paralytic complications which in my understanding defined the disease, arise in just a small percentage of cases, when the viral infection finds a way out of the intestines into the central nervous system.

Similarly, I had not understood that infection with the Epstein Barr virus is usually harmless, but in certain circumstances can give rise to glandular fever, and has now been identified as one of the causal factors in Multiple Sclerosis.

So, the idea that a viral infection which primarily affects the airways can, in a small percentage of cases, affect other parts of the body is actually not unusual.

So… 

Friends, I just don’t know what to make of what is happening now.

The Government seem to have yet again abandoned their public health responsibilities, and by ending free-testing, is obliging us all to manage our own risks – and our risks to those around us – by nothing more than guesswork.

I can’t see what will happen in the coming months, but in the last two years infections have fallen from a winter peak only with the aid of severe lockdowns. But I sense no public appetite for the re-introduction of strong restrictions. And I too am enjoying visiting the folk club and other music venues.

In both 2020 and 2021 cases, admissions and deaths all began to rise again after restrictions were lifted. The rises started in June or July indicating that COVID (unlike most flu strains) can still thrive in a British summer. And in both years, the prevalence grew through the summer and autumn and went on to cause serious winter crises.

So viral prevalence may rise, or it may eventually begin to recede.

The situation with re-infection of previously infected or vaccinated people is complex. but recent evidence seems to point towards vaccination being much more effective than prior infection. And so we will likely rely on boosters to minimise deaths and hospital admissions.

I will keep monitoring things, and if I can think of something helpful to say I will. But for the time being, I will just try to say as little as I can.

Stay Safe.

Tee Shirt available here

 

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