Helping to stop COVID-19

Can I encourage all who are in the UK to help with tracing COVID-19 outbreak?

Why is it important? My work is to try to predict how many people are likely to need intensive care in the days and weeks to come. This is essential for health authorities to be able to prepare enough beds, staff and equipment. We also look into the data to see whether the lockdown is indeed helping to slow down the spread, to predict how long we need to be in the isolation, or whether it is OK to relax the constraints on our lives. This is essential – each day of lockdown costs us millions of pounds and possible many livelihoods. On the other hand, if we relax them too early, we can get an even more damaging second wave.

The problem with our work is that we need to have as good information as possible about how many people are and are not infected. At the moment we are seeing only the “tip of an iceberg”. There are wild estimations of how many people are carriers and do not show any symptoms. We have little idea how many people are infectious but show only mild symptoms, and so do not bother with self-isolation. We do not know exactly how many people are starting having symptoms now and so will be coming to A&E in a few days time. Yet, having this information and having it as promptly as possible is vital.

It is also important to know who is still healthy, so if there are large pockets of the population that are not affected by the disease.

Our colleagues at King’s College London, Guys & St Thomas’ Hospitals and the NHS have come up with a simple mobile application that can be used to monitor symptoms. Please follow the link below, download the app and use it daily to tell us how you feel!

https://covid.joinzoe.com/

Many thanks in advance. I will keep you posted about this and other initiatives.

Screenshot of the app.

Living in the time of coronavirus

I have seen this post on Facebook recently and got permission from the author to republish it here. It comes from the epicentre of the outbreak, in China:

WHAT I AM LEARNING ON LOCK-DOWN: How Long??????

We are entering our 8th week of lock down in China. 2 months. And It feels unreal that most of my children have not left our community for 2 months!

[…] has been the one to go for grocery and needs runs, however went 17 days without going anywhere at one time. We decided at the beginning of things closing down, to limit the amount of trips out of the house. Our reasoning? The main reason is that if someone is diagnosed with the virus, and you shopped at the same store, someone will be knocking on your door here to check and possibly quarantine you. We heard many cases of this. Even a round up of 11,000 people occurred, after a outdoor market vendor was diagnosed.

So part of the “How Long” will depend on others around you, so be encouraging one to another to keep healthy distancing.

From our experience here, we are on our 2nd month and we are entering a new phase. IT is a mixed emotion of RELIEF and hope when we hear the numbers are minimum. Yet there is still high concern that when society ventures out from their houses, will it come back? So after all we have gone through these past 2 months, you get to a point where you are not wanting everyone to RUSH out too early and rebound.

Yet with the economy the way it is, it is critical!

Many of you have asked me How long I think your country will take before this is all over….. if you take serious precautions and practice strong hygiene, maybe 3-4 months hopefully…..but it is variable upon human choices and also medical ability…

Just like America is pointing out that there are consequences for China’s President being late in telling the public, there are also consequences for countries around the world not responding with due diligence and speed as well.

When the government and medical community here said maybe in April things will look better, I cringed and felt dismayed. But after the first 3 weeks, we settled into a new way of thinking and operating. It still feels weird, but once the original HYPE and Shopping rushes, and the new media starts to find everyone is no longer glued to the screens so they start reporting on other topics, it just becomes more of a team spirit way of living!

I hope you will find useful this encouraging message.

New data, new models, new policies

We woke up this morning to quite a turn in the COVID-2019 containment policy, according to this Financial Times article (£):

This is a very interesting development, again driven by mathematical modelling (but with changed data), something I anticipated last week and yesterday. But it also illustrates how difficult and fraught with dangers the interface between modelling and politics is.

At the end of the day, our mathematical models are only worth as much as the data we have and the assumptions we make. As mathematicians, we are (or should be) very aware of the limitations of our work and have a duty to present the results in such a way that the uncertainties are clear. In this particular case, it seems that the assumptions about the death rates of hospitalised people were wrong, as they were based on a different disease.

The problem is that politicians expect clear-cut, simple answers and expect them now – and some politicians probably expect more clear-cut and even simpler answers and to have them by yesterday. And sometimes, we as scientists are perhaps too quick to comply and to give the politicians the answers they want.

As I said in my earlier post:

But even more important is that the government is very clear and open with the public why the particular decision is taken and when.

I am concerned that we might be at a crunch time for mathematical models, similar to the aftermath of foot-and-mouth disease, and that people will stop trusting us. It is very good that the Centre for Epidemiological Analysis and Modelling of Infectious Diseases changed its advice. It is also good that the politicians seem to have listened to it and changed (albeit only partially and probably insufficiently) their policy. I hope this will save lives and I am glad modelling is helping to do this.

Mathematicians and historians will be debating for years how the ‘UK strategy’, as opposed to the ‘continental strategy’, came to be formulated and accepted and how it came to its end last night. The key thing now is to see that we suppress the outbreak, save lives, and learn to live together as a community that cares.

I have now allowed (moderated) comments on this article, please feel free to post.