Made in December: the severity of today’s crisis is because clear warning signs were simply ignored

  • Published: Jan 12, 2021
  • Author: Peter Kenway
  • Category: Health

In arguing that “England is now paying the price for the government’s failure to get ahead of the virus before Christmas”, Independent Sage member Gabriel Scally is spot on – and it is not just hindsight that allows him to be so. Signs that something was going badly wrong were clear at the start of December.

The graph shows that, despite restrictions, case numbers between the start and end of the last lockdown rose by 12% in the East of England and 9% in the South-East, whilst remaining unchanged in London. By contrast, case numbers fell sharply across the rest of England, by between 43% in the West Midlands and 69% in the North West.

You don’t need to be a Professor of Epidemiology to recognise that something was up across the whole south-eastern corner of the country.

Nor do you need anything more than a calculator to get the percentages shown in the graph, which simply compare the number of newly reported cases on the last Wednesday of lockdown (2nd December) with the number on the first Wednesday (4th November). The 18 data points were published by the Government on 3rd December.

Change in reported case numbers by English region, between the start and end of the last lockdown

Cases after second lockdown.png

Source: GOV.UK Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the UK

When England came out of lockdown that day, these three south-easterly regions, containing 43% of England’s population, mostly returned to Tier 2. It was almost two weeks before London and parts of the East and South East were suddenly moved to Tier 3. The severity of today’s crisis has its roots in that fortnight of inaction, during which time the three regions’ combined case numbers rose threefold.

As Scally goes on, instead of constantly seeking a ‘magic bullet’, Government should develop multiple and complementary interventions to control the spread of Covid. We couldn’t agree more. To take one example: testing needs to be accompanied by effective tracing which, as we argued last week, must in turn be accompanied by vastly improved financial support for those who must self-isolate. For this to be politically possible, self-isolation also needs to be recognised, as Devi Sridhar puts it, as an “act of goodwill” for which people should be properly compensated.

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