Covid, data and risk

What has happened to the earlier government message of – don’t worry unnecessarily, the vast majority of cases are not serious and do not require hospitalisation? This was given to us only six weeks ago and we already have a lot of data proving that this message was in fact correct. The ONS stats show that only 332 people under the age of 45 died from Corona virus (ONS figs up to April 24th).  Instead we are given a daily diet of catastrophe stories of young people dying by the media and the government has done nothing to assure people that this is highly unusual. No wonder fear has gripped the nation.

We now have a lot of data which the government choose not to relay to us. Instead we are given the daily numbers (not actually the daily, but taken over a number of days) of deaths and new infections. The latter data may change according to how many tests are being administered, making comparison difficult. Hospital figures are much more helpful in seeing the decline in numbers. The media is focusing on how we fare against other countries in terms of number of deaths despite knowing that we are probably all using different ways of measuring. This is not where the focus should be. We should be having a debate about the pros and cons of shutting down the economy and the whole population, and coming out of it in the best possible way. But to do that the public need proper information. About the risks and perhaps more about the illness itself.

This data should be communicated by the government rather than through occasional press stories. Are some people more at risk than others? The answer is an emphatic yes but to give these important details might have taken away from the overall message that we are all in this together, the disease is indiscriminate (it’s not) so that we obey and all stay at home. The facts may undermine this message.  But even if belatedly, journalists are beginning to report on some of the data that can readily be found on various government and NHS  sites eg. NHS England, ONS and ICNARC.

A virus cannot be fought and beaten by hiding from it. We are avoiding it and suppressing its spread. It can only be really beaten by a vaccine or herd immunity, that is sufficient numbers have had it or are immune enough to depower it.  For all the talk of vaccines, they are a long way off, maybe two years and maybe not at all. A vaccine for the HIV virus was never found. Hence we have some hesitation from the government on what to do next. But we are entitled to ask questions at this stage.

Who is most at risk from this virus?  

The figures in the Intensive Care National Audit Research Centre provide a lot of information about those who are receiving critical care for the virus.

Headline figures – all  Covid intensive care patients:

Average age is 60

72% are men

34% are from BAME backgrounds

And 33% are overweight according to BMI index

And a further 40% are clinically obese

The ONS figures on deaths tell us  twice as many men die as women in the age groups 50-70, one third more in the 70-79 age bracket before there is an evening out in much older age.

So possibly a fit seventy something old female would be less vulnerable than a 55 year old overweight male. Is this fact is influencing the very middle aged and male decision makers? Surely the public should know whether or not they are more or less at risk. Perhaps there is not enough understanding as to why these groups are overrepresented which is why there is no official comment on these figures. It is thought that a higher propensity to diabetes that BAME groups have may be one of the factors responsible for increased vulnerability as well as a lack of Vitamin D.  Research I hope is surely going on to discover why but these are still facts that should be publicised.

Maggie Pagano has written an excellent article in Reaction showing why the UK has such a high number of deaths… and inequalities loom large.

The most deprived areas of England and Wales have 55.1 deaths per 100,000 people compared to 25.3 in affluent areas. That is, people in the poorest areas died at twice the rate of those in more affluent ones. (ONS)

One consequence of poverty and indeed one measure of social deprivation is poor health outcome and we know that those with underlying conditions get hit the hardest. Ninety-five percent of people who have died with COVID-19 in hospitals in England had underlying health issues.

It is time for a discussion with as many facts given to the public as possible. If you know you are a high risk person, you presumably may be more careful than those who are not. There is a question of personal agency, which we have had removed from us perhaps for good reason but we should be questioning the rationale for it.

What is the risk for different groups of people and how far should people be allowed to take their own risk, without putting others at risk… This is a debate that we  should be having , that Parliament should be discussing. It is not just about the science. There are many scientific views. There are many routes being taken and these are political decisions.   We live in a democracy but nowhere is there a democratic debate. Where are the MPs on either side of the House challenging the current strategy and demanding more information? The consequences of this lockdown continue to multiply like the virus every day, the devastation to the economy, of young people’s futures and the toll on health and mental health needs to be brought upfront into the decision making process. This is about lives v lives. And to have that debate we need the facts. And we need honesty. If the government doesn’t know something, it should say so. We deserve to be treated like grownups now.