Archive for the ‘Corona Virus’ Category

COVID 19: Wave#3:12,000 deaths

November 2, 2021

Friends, I last wrote about the pandemic death toll a couple of weeks ago on October 14th (link). At that point the COVID third wave had killed around 10,00 people.

Since then, the disease has continued to kill just over 100 people per day. And as the death toll ticks over the 12,000 mark, it’s probably a good time to look and ask again: 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 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, doubling every 41 days. Also highlighted in purple are the Euro finals, and the dates of returns to school and university in 2020 and 2021.

However I find it difficult to write about this topic at the moment. The UK seems living out a form of collective cognitive dissonance, with the scale of infection and death very high from a global perspective. And yet there is widespread behaviour as if it were all over.

Anyway. Let’s see how things are going.

Compared with a year ago…

There are currently:

  • Almost 40,000 cases per day (x 2 compared with ~ 20,000 per day at this time last year).
  • Around 1000 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 continues to be the same or worse than this time last year! But the dynamics – the way viral prevalence is changing – is different.

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. There are periods of 2 to 3 weeks where the epidemic grows exponentially, but at a relatively slow rate. But these growth periods, while concerning, are not sustained.

The viral prevalence has been over 1% for roughly 10 weeks. But there is substantial acquired immunity amongst the unvaccinated (younger) population from having caught COVID, and amongst the vaccinated (older) population, from vaccines. However, this immunity is not perfect.

So what is happening?

As I mentioned, I have been struggling to summarise the COVID situation in the UK.

But on Monday morning I received a précis from New York Times who – although I never write to them – kindly write me a daily newsletter.

Click on image for larger version. Excerpt from the New York Times newsletter today.

In the UK we are months into the ‘living with COVID‘ post-pandemic world.

Of course ‘living with COVID’ actually involves around 3,000 people each month dying with COVID.

And merely designating this era ‘post-pandemic’, does not actually make it so.

In my last article I wrote:

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.

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.

I just hope that the winter will be kind to us all.

COVID-19: Wave#3: The Effect of Vaccines

October 16, 2021

Click on the figure for a larger version. Charts showing the rates of cases, hospitalisations and deaths across different age groups – with categorisation according to vaccination status: Double-Vaccinated (blue) or Not-Vaccinated  (orange). Individual charts are also shown below.

Friends, as I mentioned in my previous blog, I have been puzzled about “what is going on” in the pandemic right now.

The data I have seen seem complex and difficult to interpret. The statistics involve different age groups, geographical locations, and vaccination status.

But I came across some graphs on-line that seemed significant. So I tracked the data to a regularly-updated Public Health England (PHE) surveillance report for the 4 weeks up to 10th October 2021 (Link). I then reproduced the graphs from the tables therein.

The charts show rates of…

  • positive COVID-19 cases,
  • hospitalisations, and
  • deaths,

…versus age group, categorised according to vaccination status. Note that these are rates per 100,000 people, not absolute numbers.

CLARIFICATION added on 17 October.

In each age group, the two rates shown are:

  • the number of cases, admissions or deaths per 100,000 vaccinated people and
  • the number of cases, admissions or deaths per 100,000 unvaccinated people.

They are NOT the number of cases, admissions or deaths per 100,000 members of the population in that age group.

I think they tell a story.

Click on the figure for a larger version.

Deaths

As has been the case throughout the pandemic, age is the primary risk factor.

This data tells us that in any age group, being un-vaccinated is typically 4 times more dangerous.

The risk ratio is worst in the 50-59 year-old age group where the rates of death amongst the un-vaccinated are more than 8 times higher.

Note: this death rate is affected by both the number of people infected in each age group and their risk of death. The high risk ratio in this age group is likely to be because these people are more likely to be still working, unlike people aged over 60. 

It’s also important to note that amongst the older age groups most people are double-vaccinated – more than 80% of the over 50’s are double-vaccinated.

Actual deaths in the under 18 age group are sadly not zero. Over the four weeks of coverage, the tables record the deaths of 3 unvaccinated youths, and 1 who had only recently had a single shot.

Hospitalisations

Click on the figure for a larger version.

Hospitalisation data show that age is again the primary risk factor – but now even younger people are being affected.

Actual admissions in the under 18 age group were 408, of whom all but 12 were un-vaccinated.

Taking the over-50’s all together, there were 3360 hospitalisations – 660 of whom had not received a double dose. So around 2700 had been double-vaccinated. This ratio (2700/660) is around 4.1, not far off the ratio of the number of double-vaccinated people to unvaccinated people.

This seems to indicate that the vaccines have only a partial ability to prevent illness serious enough to warrant hospitalisation.

Cases

Click on the figure for a larger version.

The ‘case data’ show a striking contrast with the hospitalisation and death data. This data shows that the epidemic is spreading predominantly amongst young people.

It is also striking that amongst those older than 30, the case rates-per-100,000, are higher amongst the doubly-vaccinated than amongst the un-vaccinated.

This effect arises because (a) even double-vaccination does not fully protect against infection and (b) there are many more doubly-vaccinated people than un-vaccinated people.

This seems to indicate that the vaccines do not offer strong protection against catching COVID-19.

And so the story is…

I think the COVID-19 epidemic is being kept going by high infection rates amongst younger people – presumably in schools.

Schools – presumably – form infection hotspots through which pupils and support staff infect people in the wider community.

Double-vaccination does not protect against infection, but it does seem to reduce the rates at which infections warrant hospitalisation, and is highly – but not perfectly – effective at preventing death.

So what will happen next?

The future is amongst the most difficult things to predict. But given the Government’s laissez-faire policy, it is hard to imagine that they will not allow the epidemic to continue to infect everyone it can possibly infect.

And some fraction of those people – between 0.1% and 1% – will die. This probably amounts to tens of thousands more deaths over the coming winter.

The only thing which I can see that might cause the Government to think otherwise would be if the Health Service became overwhelmed.

Personally

Personally, I find this data deeply depressing.

This data speaks of an ongoing crisis, killing more than 100 people each day. But a crisis which the Government seems to refuse to acknowledge.

Having reflected on this data, I (double-vaccinated and aged 61) will be taking even more care than I have been up to this point.

And if you have not yet been vaccinated…

COVID 19: Wave#3. 10,000 deaths

October 14, 2021

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.

COVID 19: Wave#3. How its going.

August 29, 2021

Click for a larger image. Logarithmic graph showing positive caseshospital admissions and deaths since the start of the pandemic. 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 current trends, 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.

Friends, I last wrote about the pandemic three weeks ago on August 7th. At that point it had just become clear (to me at least) that the late July peak in cases was associated with the Euros.

In the UK we are now experiencing the third wave of the epidemic which was happening ‘underneath’ the ‘Euro surge’. Viral prevalence is high and showing slow exponential growth – with cases, admissions, and deaths doubling roughly every 42 days.

There are currently:

  • More than 30,000 cases per day (x 30 compared with ~ 1000 per day at this time last year).
  • Almost 1000 admissions per day (x10 compared with ~ 100 per day at this time last year).
  • Over 100 deaths per day (x 10 compared with ~ 10 per day at this time last year).

In the weeks ahead we have the return to Schools and Universities in England. Based on last year (when prevalence was about 10 times lower) we might reasonably expect an increase in the number of cases admissions and deaths over and above the current trend. See the purple arrows on the graph above.

In the face of these facts, it might surprise many readers to know that life in the UK for many non-immunocompromised people has become very normal.

Are we all OK with this?

The Daily Mail points out that current death rates from COVID are no longer the greatest cause of death in the UK. The gist of their suggestion is that we should just get used to this.

[Note: as detailed in the figure caption, their numbers are out of date]

Click for a larger version. Article from the Daily Mail on Sunday 29th August 2021. The graphic is misleading because it uses older data on deaths and the death rate has been increasing. COVID Deaths are now over 700 per week and if current trends continue will exceed 1400 deaths per week at the end of September.

I understand and sympathise with this argument. But the argument is based on numbers now.

Being an epidemic, the prevalence of COVID will continue to increase and – as we have seen repeatedly – we can make decisions which seem reasonable now, but which commit us later to large numbers of cases, hospital admissions and deaths.

One lesson of the epidemic might be that modest precautionary steps taken early can avoid the need for drastic lockdowns – the only tool for dealing with a widespread lethal epidemic in its later stages.

Recall that roughly 1700 people die each day ‘normally’. So 100 people dying each day (6% of normal) may be considered ‘acceptable’.

But if things continue on current trends, then by the end of September 2021 we may be looking at 200 people dying each day (12% of normal), alongside 60,000 daily cases and 2,000 hospital admissions per day. The death toll from Wave#3 might be have reached 8,000.

And if things continue to continue on current trends for a further month, then by the end of October 2021 we may be looking at almost 400 people dying each day (24% of normal). The death toll from Wave#3 might have reached almost 15,000. This is probably not acceptable to most people – and certainly not me.

What to do?

I don’t know!

The Government appear to be in denial about these likely projections, which are similar to predictions by much more eminent people than I.

As I look at these figures  it is clear that the growth rate of the epidemic is being limited by vaccines, but it is still growing, albeit slowly.

Vaccination of children may help, but I suspect that any program started now will be too late to prevent a ‘back-to-school’ boost in cases and further growth through the autumn. Vaccination of 18 year-olds may well be sufficient to slow viral spread at Universities.

So unless we re-introduce some additional social distancing, it seems cases and hospital admissions and eventually deaths will all continue to grow. This is not to mention any risks of other variants or ‘long Covid’.

However the government seem indifferent to these harms, and all the associated suffering.

So it seems likely that things will continue on trend until – frankly – something politically embarrassing causes the government to act.

Or have I missed something?

COVID 19 Wave#3: Trends become clearer

August 7, 2021

Click for a larger image. Logarithmic graph showing positive caseshospital admissions and deaths since the start of the pandemic. The blue arrows show the dates of recent ‘opening’ events. The green dotted line shows an extrapolation from the first week of June. The purple area shows the period of the Euros finals.

Friends, I last wrote about the pandemic 11 days ago on July 27th. Then I said:

… [the] decline in daily cases is really welcome. However since I don’t know why it has happened I can’t really imagine what will happen next.

If I had to guess, I think I would expect the rapid decline to be temporary. I think daily cases  will fall to a still high level, perhaps 10,000 cases per day, but hopefully less.

And then I would expect daily cases to either increase again or decrease, but much more gradually. But that is just a guess.

So in the coming weeks I will be looking to see if the hospitalisations and deaths show the same peak in  cases, and then trying to discern the ongoing trend in cases.

Things have now become clearer, and the rapid decline in daily cases was indeed temporary and the timing indicates that it was associated with the Euro 2021 championship.

Click for a larger image. Logarithmic graph showing positive cases, since the start of 2021. The blue arrows show the dates of recent ‘opening’ events.  The green dotted lines show (a) an extrapolation from the first week of June, and (b) a guess for the ‘underlying’ spread showing the ‘Euros Effect’.

The peak in daily cases occurred on 21 July and daily hospital  admissions  peaked 10 days later on 31 July. This correlated peak in admissions indicates that the peak in cases was not a measurement effect but arose from a real increase in viral prevalence.

As I write (7 August) the number of deaths per day has not yet reached its peak but the 7-day retrospective average is currently 90 deaths per day.

Ratios

By looking at the data at the peaks (7-day retrospective averages) we can estimate how many cases result in hospital admissions and how many hospital admissions result in deaths.

  • Around 47,700 cases per day resulted in about 930 admissions to hospital per day i.e. a ratio of roughly 2%
  • Around 930 admissions resulted in at least 90 deaths per day i.e. a ratio of roughly 10%
  • So 47,700 cases per day results in at least 90 deaths per day i.e. a fatality ratio of roughly 0.2%

These figures are much lower than earlier in the pandemic, but they are still – in my opinion – worryingly high. For comparison, in the UK we normally expect about 1700 deaths per day from ‘non-pandemical’ causes.

Ongoing Trends

Recently daily cases have fallen to around 27,000 cases per day – a very high level by either a historical or an international comparison.

Worryingly daily cases still appear to be slowly increasing. Measures to restrict viral spread appear to be ad hoc at best and so we might reasonably expect Wave#3 to continue for several weeks – or even months – at a similar level.

Based on the ratios above, 27,000 cases per day will result in roughly 55 deaths per day or around 1600 deaths per month.

27,000 cases day probably corresponds to very roughly 1 million infections per month which is similar to the rate at which first doses of vaccine are being administered.

Click for a larger image. The progress of vaccination amongst the UK population. The left-hand axis shows the population in millions and the right-hand axis shows the fraction of the entire population – not just adults. The dark blue line shows first doses and the light blue line shows second doses.

What do I think about this?

I don’t know!

I hate to say it – and readers in New Zealand and Australia and South Korea and Taiwan may find this extraordinary – but in the UK at the moment, this level of infection and death is ‘politically acceptable’.

The alternative – re-imposing restrictions and re-doubling vaccination efforts – is not being considered.

  • If we are lucky, then the death rate will remain at 50 or so people per day for just a month or two – perhaps increasing when schools and universities restart – and then slowly reducing as the long-sought ‘herd immunity’ is achieved. The death toll from Wave#3 might be below 10,000.
  • If we are unlucky, then this death rate will continue for several months, and the widespread prevalence amongst the several million immunocompromised people might result in a new variant against which vaccines are not as effective.

This is not the policy I would have chosen – I would have been less inclined to rely on ‘luck’ as an ally. But given where we are, if the death rates and hospitalisations rates remain low enough then I can’t see this policy being changed.

On the plus side – for the non-immunocompromised – a reasonably normal life is possible.

In contrast with the UK’s ‘Total COVID’ strategy, countries which have adopted a zero-COVID strategy – such as China, New Zealand or Australia – will have to retain strict border controls until their populations are fully vaccinated.

But since no border controls are perfect, they will probably have to periodically impose lockdowns as new infections are imported: And in democracies, there is a limit to the amount of restrictions citizens are prepared to accept – and colloquially – many people seem to feel we are close to that limit. For example restrictions on Australians leaving Australia seem extraordinary!

Over the coming year or so, COVID might become endemic in the UK, and so there might not be too many restrictions for entering the UK – but countries worldwide might retain especially tight restrictions for passengers from the UK.

As many people have said until COVID vaccination becomes available world-wide, COVID will remain a threat everywhere in one way or another.

Good luck wherever you are.

 

COVID 19 Wave#3: How is it going?

July 27, 2021

Click for a larger image. Logarithmic graph showing positive caseshospital admissions and deaths since the start of the pandemic. The blue arrows show the dates of recent ‘opening’ events. See text for further details. The green dotted line shows an extrapolation from the first week of June.

Friends, I last wrote about the pandemic almost a month ago on 29th June 2021. There I quoted myself from 4th June as saying that

I don’t think [Wave#3] can kill ‘hundreds of thousands’, but it could easily kill ‘thousands‘ and cause serious illness in many more.

I estimated that

by the end of June we would exceed 10,000 new cases per day and approach 40,000 per day at the end of the school term“.

I then pointed out that aside from more death and serious illness and we would be rolling the variant dice. I then concluded:

“the recommendations [on what to do] were … obvious, but that writing them down was pointless, because the Government just doesn’t care!

Today

Today (26th July) I see that at the start of July cases exceeded my estimates. Using a retrospective 7 day average cases peaked on 21st July with 47,000 cases per day.

But since then, the number of positive cases has been falling.

Click for a larger image. Logarithmic graph showing positive cases since the start of the 2021. The blue arrows show the dates of recent ‘opening’ events. See text for further details. The green dotted line shows an extrapolation from the first week of June.

Daily hospitalisations and deaths have continued to rise, but if this data really indicates a meaningful decline in viral transmission, then they too will peak shortly.

I am puzzled.

This is great news, but it is not what I expected. And it lifts my spirits to know that something – anything – appears to be spontaneously improving!

Sudden changes in number of daily cases like this have previously coincided with distinct changes in behaviour: lockdowns or similar. But this recent fall coincided with the calendar date of the nominal ending of pandemic restrictions!

The cause of this change in the trend of the number of daily cases would have happened a few days prior to that. But what could that cause be?  Well I don’t know, but here are six thoughts.

  • Thought#1: Could we have reached something close to herd immunity? At least in the key groups amongst whom the pandemic is spreading. I don’t think this is the case, because if it were, I would have expected a much more gradual change in the number of daily infections.
  • Thought#2: Could this be an effect of the ‘pingdemic’? After such a pedigree of failure, could it be possible that the number of people requested to isolate has become so large that viral transmission is really being restricted? Well it ought to be having some effect, but again I would not have expected such a sharp change.
  • Thought#3: Could a substantial part of the rise have arisen during the Euro 2020 matches? The final was on July 11th and so we might perhaps expect that cases arising from that might peak about a week later (July 18th) and then decline sharply.
  • Thought#4: Could it be something to do with the hot weather?
  • Thought#5: Could it be something to do with changes in Schools?
  • Thought#6: Could it be that people are avoiding taking a test even if they think they might be ill? Since all retractions have (nominally) been lifted, perhaps people’s sense of civic duty has changed?

Or could it be some combination of these things?

What next?

It is worth pointing out that the number of daily cases is still high based either on either an international or a historical comparison. So the UK part of the pandemic is not over, and there is a continuing risk of new variants. And a continuing threat to the millions of immuno-compromised people.

But this decline in daily cases is really welcome. However since I don’t know why it has happened I can’t really imagine what will happen next.

If I had to guess, I think I would expect the rapid decline to be temporary. I think daily cases  will fall to a still high level, perhaps a 10,000 cases per day, but hopefully less. And then I would expect daily cases to either increase again or decrease, but much more gradually. But that is just a guess.

So in the coming weeks I will be looking to see if the hospitalisations and deaths show the same peak in  cases, and then trying to discern the ongoing trend in cases.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy summer (or winter) safely wherever you are.

COVID 19: Wave#3

June 29, 2021

Click for a larger image. Logarithmic graph showing positive caseshospital admissions and deaths since the start of the pandemic. The blue arrows show the dates of ‘opening’ events. See text for further details. The red and blue dotted – – – lines show similarities and differences between the start of Wave#3 and Wave#2.

Friends, do you remember the good old days when the control of deadly infectious diseases was considered a matter of public health? Sadly, we are not living in those times.

25 days ago

On 4th June I wrote:

“I am reluctantly concluding that – as they did last summer – the government are about to screw things up.

I don’t think [Wave#3] can kill ‘hundreds of thousands’, but it could easily kill ‘thousands‘ and cause serious illness in many more.

I estimated that

by the end of June we would exceed 10,000 new cases per day and approach 40,000 per day at the end of the school term“.

I then pointed out that aside from more death and serious illness and we would be rolling the variant dice. I then concluded:

“the recommendations [on what to do] were … obvious, but that writing them down was pointless, because the Government just doesn’t care!

Today

Today (29th June) my spreadsheet tells me that the weekly averaged figure for new cases is 17,877 rather than 10,000. And it looks like at the end of the school term (~20th July) the figure could approach 100,000 positive cases per day rather than 40,000.

Currently cases are rising as rapidly as they did last summer which indicates that the virus is spreading easily in the non-vaccinated population.

The data on hospital admissions do not yet show a strong rise. But if we reach 100,000 positive cases per day it seems inconceivable that there will not be a significant extra burden on the health service.

The death rate is currently 17 people per day and rising at the same rate as it did last summer. The vulnerable population is probably not large enough to allow rates of 1000 deaths per day as in Wave#2. But it could plausibly reach 100 per day – i.e. 3000 deaths per month.

So should we abandon all restrictions on July 19th?

The normal death rate in the UK is about 1% of the population per year, or roughly 1700 people per day.

So death rates from COVID-19 of 10 or 20 people per day are not a great societal strain in themselves.

But being an infectious disease, COVID-19 has the capability to increase exponentially in prevalence and cause harm – sometimes in unforeseen ways.

Vaccination of 66% of the total population (1 dose) has limited the harm which can be done, but the virus is currently spreading freely amongst the 33% of the population (around 20 million people) who are unvaccinated. That is a lot of people.

I think removing restrictions in July will make almost no difference to the growth rate of viral prevalence, because I don’t think current restrictions are having very much effect. I could be wrong.

For me the question is whether there should be extra restrictions now because we are unsure of the harm to which are committing ourselves.

The government’s proposal that their policies are irreversible is truly Cnutian, implying that somehow they have dominion over the virus. I wonder if it knows.

Personally

I think we should take action now to avoid death rates of 100 people per day i.e. 3000 people per month, together with an unknown burden of long-term ill health.

In two months, vaccination levels could reach 90% and this point – when the viral prevalence was decreasing rather than increasing – would be a suitable point to remove restrictions.

Damaged as we all are by the pandemic, and impoverished as many people and businesses have been, I think think keeping mask-wearing and social distancing for a couple more months would be reasonable.

Allowing unrestricted mixing in the UK will create a viral breeding ground which could easily create new variants which could potentially allow viral escape from the vaccine. This is something we have seen often enough to know that it is not just a theoretical possibility.

And while 66% vaccination may reduce harm in the UK, there are many countries with a lower vaccination rate. For those countries it would be madness to allow unrestricted travel from the UK while the viral prevalence was approaching the same levels seen at the height of Wave#2.

But I know the government are not listening to me, or sadly their advisors. Individually they appear to be utterly venal, incompetent and corrupt, and collectively they appear to be in hock to a group of right-wing ideologues who are in denial about the harms caused by the virus. Despair is always an option.

COVID 19: What have we learned?

May 26, 2021

Click for a larger image. Logarithmic graph showing positive caseshospital admissions and deaths since the start of the pandemic. The blue arrows show the dates of ‘opening’ events. See text for further details. The red dotted line shows cases increasing by a factor 10 every 150 days.

Friends, so here we are, May 26th 2021, and I have spent the day listening to Dominic Cummings testify to the “Lessons to Learn” inquiry in Parliament.

  • I found his testimony compellingly plausible.

As I explained previously (link), I can forgive the government for failing to act at the start of pandemic. They should have known better, but actually very few people in this country could quite believe what was happening.

But I refuse to forgive the government’s failure to act in September last year. What was required was obvious even to an amateur like me (link).

Dominic Cumming’s testimony explained how, despite advice to the contrary, Boris Johnson refused to act, asserting he was the “The Mayor in “Jaws” and he would keep “the beaches” open.

But unlike the “Mayor in Jaws” who was responsible for a few fictional deaths, Boris Johnson was personally responsible for tens of thousands of real deaths – the majority of the 86,164 who died in the second wave.

I won’t go on about this, because this is not that sort of blog, but this is, in my opinion, a criminal failure.

So what can we learn now?

The graph at the head of page shows cases, deaths and admissions throughout the pandemic.

It is striking that deaths and hospital admissions are very similar now to what they were in between the first and second waves.

Positive cases are higher than at the end of the first wave, but this could easily be due to the current extensive testing of asymptomatic people. The actual prevalence of the virus is probably similar or less.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, we should not care about:

  • the absolute number of cases,
  • the population prevalence of cases,
  • or even the rate of change of cases.

What matters is this:

  • Is there the potential for the pandemic to expand into the general population and kill hundreds of thousands of people?

Last summer the answer was definitely ‘Yes’.

This summer the answer is still in my estimation probably ‘No’.

Why? Because 57% of the entire population, including practically all of the most vulnerable groups have received a first dose of the vaccine. Vaccination is reaching an additional 8% of the population per month.

Together with the 10% – 20% (roughly) of the population who have had the disease, we are close to herd immunity.

So what is the worst case?

The current resurgence in cases appears be localised in communities with low vaccination rates, having been seeded by people returning from India.

The public health response – local mass vaccination and surge testing – seems appropriate.

The likely worst outcome with 3000 cases/day amongst the least vulnerable groups – aged under 30 – is that deaths might amount to 0.1% of cases, or 3/day. Tragic as each death is, in the context of this pandemic, this seems to me “acceptable”.

Cases nationally are rising slowly: by a factor 10 in about 150 days – or 5 months.

However vaccinations are proceeding at a rate of about 8% per month, so in 5 months the entire population will be vaccinated with at least a first dose.

My guess – and it is just a guess – is that with continued attention to local outbreaks, and continued progress with vaccination, we will avoid any significant third wave.

So returning to the key question:

  • Is there the potential for the pandemic to expand into the general population and kill hundreds of thousands of people?

As far as I can tell, the answer is still ‘No’. Probably.

COVID-19:Still Looking good, but stiiiiillll not over

May 17, 2021

Click for a larger image. Logarithmic graph showing positive caseshospital admissions and deaths since the start of the pandemic. The blue arrows show the dates of ‘opening’ events. See text for further details

Friends, so here we are, May 17th 2021, and I can finally resume the natural pastime of old men: sitting in cafes.

Obviously, matters pandemical are not ideal, but they are in my estimation looking good.

To explain my uncharacteristic positivity, allow me to remind you how this summer differs from last.

I know what happened last summer…

As we look at the figure above covering positive cases, hospital admissions and deaths across the pandemic, we see that the second wave began in July 2020 – when cases began to rise. This was before the end of the first wave as judged by the minimum in the rate of deaths.

And after cases started to rise hospital admissions and deaths both fell for a further two months!

So now we should focus our attention on cases for first signs of a problem.

However what matters is:

  • not the absolute number of cases,
  • not the population prevalence of cases
  • not even the rate of change of cases

What matters is this:

  • Is there the potential for the pandemic to expand into the general population and kill hundreds of thousands of people?

Last summer the answer was definitely ‘Yes’.

This summer the answer is probably ‘No’.

Why? Because 55% of the entire population, including practically all of the most vulnerable groups have received a first dose of the vaccine.

Together with the 10% (roughly) of the population who have had the disease, we are close to herd immunity.

Herd Immunity is not an on-off thing.

As the prevalence of immune people approaches a critical prevalence – probably around 66% for the coronavirus – the speed of viral transmission slows as the virus finds it increasingly difficult to move from an infected individual to a vulnerable individual.

Once the prevalence of immune people has passed the critical prevalence – chains of viral transmission decay with increasing rapidity as immunity prevalence approaches 100%. For any physicists reading – it’s a continuous phase transition.

Probably 

Careful readers may have noticed that I slipped in an italicised  ‘probably’ a few paragraphs back. Things could still go wrong.

Most notably, one variant of the virus or another could acquire the ability to escape the immunising effects of the vaccine.

This is possible, but it is – as far as I can tell – not a very likely outcome.

What will happen next?

Click for a larger image. Logarithmic graph showing positive cases, since the start of 2021. The blue arrows show the dates of ‘opening’ events. See text for further details

The figure above shows that the ‘openings’ (shown as blue arrows) are having an effect, because after each ‘opening’ step, the rate at which cases are falling slows down, because viral transmission chains can spread further in the more liberal environments.

And since the start of May, the daily rate of positive cases has been rising slowly.

So after today, with one has to expect that the daily rate of positive cases will rise faster, and that numbers will probably not decline for several weeks or months.

Also, the potential for tourists and returning tourists to re-seed infections of different variants around the country is a concern.

And many people will be distressed by this rise in cases and the (probably) ineffective controls at the borders.

But, as I said above, in my opinion the key question is:

  • Is there the potential for the pandemic to expand into the general population and kill hundreds of thousands of people?

And as far as I can tell, the answer is ‘No’. Probably.

Retirement: One year on…

May 2, 2021

Click for a larger version. Clouds and blossoms. Sometimes I think to myself, it’s a wonderful world…

Friends, it is now one year (and a day or so) since I retired from NPL. And it’s been an… interesting year.

Please allow me a few moments of reflection.

NPL

It took months for the poison that flows through that institution to leave my system.

I wrote about it a bit, (here and here and here and here) but writing about the inanity of management systems and the poisonous individuals that colonise them is such a negative activity I felt obliged to just leave that all behind.

I did worry that I might miss the physics, but in fact I am doing much more physics now at home than I was at NPL.

In the same way that Neo could read the code in The Matrix, so I see the world. As I walk into Teddington for a cup of coffee each morning, I see in the blossoms and the clouds, multiple unfolding physical principles creating a world of beauty and wonder.

I literally catch my breath at the intricate complexity of it every day.

Pandemic

I have written a lot about the pandemic in the last year, but as I reflect on the year, I am genuinely lost for words.

Some of my articles on the subject now seem especially prescient. See for example this 1st January 2021 article which predicted the daily death toll in May 2021 would be roughly 75 people per day.

Click for larger view. Prediction of the daily death toll on 1st May 2021 – it’s a little pessimistic but not far off given that the UK’s vaccine rollout had barely begun.

And recent news stories that our Prime Minister said he would rather see “bodies piled high than have another lock down” finally explains why we did not lock down in October 2020. Read my article from 26th September 2020 here.

If these reports are correct, then the number of deaths personally ascribable to the Prime Minister’s actions is now way more than the 19,000 I estimated previously.

While I myself would not want to occupy such a job, I can’t imagine the depravity of someone who could make, and then fail to acknowledge such a catastrophic error.

Carbon dioxide

Retirement (and the tax-free lump sum from my pension) has allowed me to make headway on reducing my household’s carbon dioxide emissions.

The house now has triple-glazing and external wall insulation that have reduced the heating demand (and CO2 emissions) by more than 50%.

In the next few months I will install a heat pump and air conditioning which should reduce CO2 emissions by a further factor 4±1.

And our solar panel/battery combination will keep us more-or-less off-grid all summer.

But as I seek to become a genuine Carbonaut, I am faced with some terrible questions:

  • Can I live a life without milk in my tea?
  • Is a life without bacon every once in a while a life worth living?
  • And cheese? Could a life without 12-month old Davidstowe cheddar genuinely be called ‘living’?

I am writing in jest, but the questions are deadly serious.

In the coming year I will write about this more, but already there are tonnes of carbon dioxide which have not been emitted due to my actions.

By my anticipated date of death in 2040, I hope to have avoided at least 60 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

Age

I am feeling my age. I am in good health, but at 61 I am realistically in the last ‘third’ of my life.

And before the ravages of age slow me down, I realise I have a window of unknown length in which – perhaps for the first time in my life – I am genuinely free to do whatever I want to do.

What an exhilarating and terrifying challenge.

Thank you

And to all those people – genuine friends – who have communicated their support throughout this year – thank you.


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