I think the relaxations in the lockdown are premature. Here is why:

  1. Hospital admissions in London are going up

And in England as a whole, hospital admissions are rising slightly:

UPDATE 8pm Here is the same graph with another day’s data – the admissions continue to rise:

2. The number of reported deaths is up, week on week:

UPDATE 8pm – here is the same graph with another day’s numbers. This is not more reassuring.

3. R, the Reproduction Number, is at or close to 1. We know this because the infection rate is, according to the ONS, “relatively stable”. It was 0.24% this week, down from 0.25% last week.

4. The ONS estimates that there are still about 54,000 new infections per week. If R is close to 1, this is unlikely to come down very fast. This is a higher number of new infections than can be subject to contact tracing. And only about 10,000 of those are getting tests.

5. The track and trace system is not ready. Tests are too few (well below the PM’s target of 200,000 by the end of May) and the results are too slow (you need to get test results within 24 hours to nip an outbreak in the bud). The IT is unstable. The training is inadequate. There are too few contact tracers. The app is not ready, and is unlikely to be widely adopted because of privacy concerns.

If you don’t believe me, listen to Sir Patrick Valance, the Chief Scientific Adviser. I think he is much more cautious than the Ministers he is advising. Watch his 3 minute presentation at yesterday’s press conference (it should start automatically at the right point; if not, go to 18m05s in this video):

It is very odd to announce on Thursday that you will allow more social gatherings, but not until Monday. Why not wait until after the weekend to announce this, if you don’t want people to pre-empt the relaxations over a sunny weekend? My guess is that the Government has rushed out this announcement to distract attention from Dominic Cummings, and to divert our gaze from the Prime Minister’s car crash performance at the Liaison Committee.

I am not suggesting that we should stay in lockdown indefinitely (or until a vaccine is available). But to relax the restrictions:

  • for measures which increase R, we need something to offset those measures so that R stays below 1. That something is track and trace. So those measures should be introduced when track and trace is ready. And,
  • the goal is not merely to stabilize new infections, but to stabilize them at a low level. We need to keep restrictions in place until the new infections are lower.

I hope I am wrong, but these do not look to me like good enough figures to warrant a relaxation just yet.

Please, stay safe.

Categories: Uncategorized

Owen Barder

Owen is CEO of Precision Agriculture for Development. He has worked in the office of the UK Prime Minister, the British Treasury, the Department for International Development; and at the Center for Global Development.


Ray · May 29, 2020 at 10:49 am

I’m also worried. With hindsight (and perhaps without), we were late into lockdown.

Unless my math is wrong… a 1 week delay going in, with R at 2.5 = needing another 9 weeks of lockdown with R at 0.9 to make up for that lost time.

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