Covid-19 – where are we at?
I’m not a doctor. I’ve got the white coat for role-plays, obviously, but there’s a lot of people who are a lot more qualified than I am who you should be listening to when it comes to Covid-19.
Make sure you’re getting your updates and insights from experts who are informed and know what they’re talking about.
However, I find it useful to try and keep up-to-date with what’s going on with Covid-19 around the world. It’s a coping mechanism to try and prevent myself from feeling overwhelmed by it all.
One of the unexpected consequences of this pandemic is that we’ve all become data experts as we try to keep on top of the facts. Every day in this new-normal is an exercise in critical analysis. We always need to be questioning – Does this person know what they’re talking about? How objective are they? What’s the context of this information? Does this information apply to me?
It’s undeniably really good news for everyone that significant progress is being made on vaccines against Covid-19.
While the roll-out of vaccine solutions is underway, it’s obviously going to take some time and we’re already seeing a lot of variation around the world in terms of access to vaccines.
Here in the UK, good progress has been made – everyone over 40 has now been offered their first dose of the vaccine, and many people with underlying conditions that make them vulnerable have now also received their first level of protection.
The target that the UK government has been working to is to offer all adults in the UK a first dose of a vaccine by the end of July. However, supply problems are emerging that are likely to challenge that timeline.
The roadmap out of lockdown
The government has published a ‘roadmap‘ of how and when they plan to lift restrictions in England – Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are setting their own agenda. Obviously, things can still change, but personally I find it really helpful to have milestones to mentally work towards.
The government framed this roadmap as being based on “Data not Dates” but the proceeded to set out a series of key dates that we’ve all dutifully inked into our diaries.
The first step was getting schools back into classrooms. This happened on 8 March.
The next milestone was 29 March, when the stay-at-home order was lifted in England.
We’ve now passed another milestone. Non-essential shops – retail as well as pubs and hairdressers – reopened on 12 April. Self-catering holiday homes can also now be booked for single-household staycations.
Under the original roadmap published by the government, 17 May is listed as the earliest date at which international holidays could resume. It’s not clear how this is going to work.
According to the published roadmap, 21 June is the earliest that we can expect the removal of the last of the restrictions. Obviously, that’s highly dependent on the virus also signing up to this roadmap and – at this stage – seems aspirational, at best.
The best data source that we seem to have is the government’s Covid-19 page on its website.
One of the key failings of this government has been an inability to establish an effective test trace and track system. Other countries have done it, but not the UK. The capabilities around testing appear to be improving, but we’re still relying on lag indicators not lead indicators to shape our response.
Because we’re not testing everyone all the time, test results give a sense of where we’re at with infection numbers but don’t give us a complete picture. What we do know that we had our highest rate of recorded infections on 1Jan21 when the 7-day average hit 61K. Since then, it seems to be easing – which is encouraging – and the 7-day average is currently around 2.1K. What’s concerning is that means we’ve still got quite a lot of infections going around – this creates opportunities for the virus to mutate.
Hospital Admission rates is a real crunch-point. We currently have around 1.2K people in hospital because of Covid-19, and we’re currently seeing around 130 people being admitted each day. These admission rates seem to now be easing, which is what we need to see.
In terms of deaths, the data on this got pretty messy. After several months, the government realised that different parts of the health infrastructure were counting Covid-19 related deaths in different ways. They’re now officially counting deaths as Covid-19 related if they occur within 28 days of a positive test, but even that seems to come with quite a few caveats. If we take the UK-level data at face-value, we’ve had over 127K Covid-related deaths and we’re currently averaging around 10 Covid-related deaths per day.
Are we ready for a third wave?
One of the challenges with viruses is that they mutate – they’re unpredictable. The more infections and transmissions that are occurring, the more opportunities that the virus has to adapt and evolve.
The B117 strain of the virus – which was first detected in the UK – appears to be more transmissible and more deadly than the earlier strains of the virus that we encountered. It’s the B117 strain that has now become the predominant strain in Europe and is also a factor in the spikes in transmission in places such as Canada and India.
There’s lots of different strains out there – emerging in different parts of the world. So far, the vaccines we have appear to be effective against the known strains, and vaccine development is continuing to adapt to new strains as they emerge. But the emergence of new strains highlights the risks that we’re facing and why it’s imperative that vaccine solutions are rolled out to everyone around the world as quickly as possible.