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Why data are important…

Elephant in the room – for additional meaning, see my previous blog post.

I have written about the importance of data on this blog. With the UK government choosing to stop most testing and surveillance for COVID-19, we are left with picking up other data streams.

Deaths, both identified as with/from COVID-19, or excess, are a very important data stream to understand the severity of the pandemic outbreak. Since a large portion of the UK population is now vaccinated, there is a much lower probability of dying of COVID-19 than back in 2020.

Still, the deaths data stream contains important information on how many people are currently infected. Or rather were infected a month ago or so, as it takes quite a long time from catching COVID-19 to becoming seriously ill to die.

There have been some serious problems with this data stream in the last few weeks and 2,714 deaths have been added to the reports from February.

Does this matter? Yes, it does on three counts.

Firstly, it makes the current outbreak so much more significant. In the graph above, compare the current number of deaths (just above 100 per day) with the situation in the second half of 2021.

According to the “old” data we were about at levels similar to October 2021 and well within the range from July 2021 until the Delta/Omicron onslaught in Winter 2021/22.

Also, the recent increase would have been moderately fast (see how fast the death numbers increase at the end of the dark purple line).

The “new” data change this picture quite dramatically. Firstly, the deaths are now nearing 200 a day, a massive increase by at least a third.

This means that even during the period of low deaths back in March – when we were “celebrating” the end of pandemics – the level of deaths was very high.

It was almost as high (between 100 and 140) as at the worst periods in September 2021 (100-125) and in November 2021 (130-155). Then we seemed to care, now we just seem to shrug our shoulders and pretend the pandemic is finished.

I tried to align the pandemic waves of 2020, 2021 and 2022. It is quite interesting how each of the big waves – particularly in Scotland, but to a large extent in England – followed a similar pattern.

Except that the two “big waves” – April 2020 and December 2020 – resulted in a continuing drop of deaths – a result of lockdowns.

In contrast, the two “small” waves – August/September 2021 and January 2022 – are followed by further waves, with similar – if not higher – levels of deaths.

Finally, the current rate of deaths is unacceptably high – in England it exceeds the death levels in the whole period of early and middle 2021. In Scotland, there are currently more deaths per day than at any point since early 2021.

We might have called the pandemic to be ended, but the virus does not know and does not seem to care. And it is really “an elephant in the room”.

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