Updated: Dec 21, 2021
As the Pandemic Evolves, Our Covid Data is Not Fit for Purpose
· Government Covid data is inaccurate and unreliable. It needs to change.
· The evolution of the pandemic means the reported data is becoming more and more inaccurate as the virus and our response evolves.
· Covid hospitalisations and Covid deaths could be less than half what is being reported.
· Covid cases are being persistently presented in breach of WHO guidance. When interpreted responsibly, the widely reported surge in cases may never have happened at all.
· By reporting misleading data, the government is destroying public trust and playing into the hands of anti-vaxx groups and conspiracy theorists.
· UK and devolved governments have had 21 months to get reliable and uniform UK-wide data. Once again, we must ask, what has the government been doing for the past two years?
· Without reliable and accurate data, the public cannot make responsible decisions around their behaviour or participate in a national dialogue on appropriate responses to the pandemic.
· New sets of reliable data must be compiled immediately. Case numbers should be interpreted alongside the positivity ratio or derived from the Covid Infection Survey. Deaths and hospitalisations should be included only where there has been a positive Covid test AND where Covid is the ‘sine qua non’ for death or hospitalisation.
Chris Whitty is right about one thing: Covid deaths and Covid hospitalisations will rise. This is so even if the vaccines are 100% effective and every single person has all their doses. And it is so even if Omicron turns out to be no more harmful than a common cold or a broken finger nail.
Whitty’s assertion is not a result of scientific genius, but a reflection of how flawed the government’s Covid statistics are.
The primary measures of Covid hospitalisations and deaths simply measure how many people die or are hospitalised with Covid not because of Covid. It has already been widely reported that, as a result, that the headline numbers for deaths and hospitalisations are grossly overstated, perhaps by as much as a factor of two.
This has been known for some time. The reason it matters so much now is that the evolution of the virus is making the inaccuracies even bigger. This is because, firstly, the virus is consistently becoming more transmissible; with Omicron continuing that trend. And secondly - thanks to increasing vaccination, natural immunity and the virus’ evolution - Covid is also becoming less severe.
What that means is that there will be many more cases of the virus, but fewer cases with serious symptoms.
By recording deaths and hospitalisations to include anyone with the virus, ‘Covid deaths’ and ‘Covid hospitalisations’ will inevitably surge over the coming weeks, even if fewer people are dying or being hospitalised because of the virus.
If Omicron really is mild but virulent, we could see millions of cases but little serious illness. That means we could end up panicking over thousands of deaths and hospitalisations of people who just happen to have Covid, even if none of them are because of Covid.
This explains why the widely reported model of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine predicted up to 75,000 Omicron deaths and half a million hospitalisations, without taking account of severity. The researchers were not being mendacious. If Omicron infects 20% of us a month, the laws of probability mean 20% of monthly deaths will be recorded as Omicron deaths; even if Omicron is totally harmless and causes none of them. From there it is very easy to reach these alarming numbers.
Indeed, if we carry on like this, this scenario could keep playing out again and again as the virus evolves. Imagine a Covid strain that is so mild it harms no one but so virulent everyone gets it all the time. We would end up be recording thousands of ‘Covid deaths’ and ‘Covid hospitalisations’ every day; justifying a permanent lockdown and endless rounds of compulsory vaccinations.
In addition, growth in cases is also being deliberately misreported. Government scientists and Ministers have been releasing alarmist figures showing growth in reported Covid cases. What they have not reported is that the surge in Covid cases has been accompanied by an unprecedented surge in Covid testing, as public awareness panic ramped up. When more testing is done, there are inevitably more cases found. WHO guidance has been consistently clear that case counts should be presented and interpreted alongside the positivity rate (the percentage of tests taken that are positive). When actual cases really do surge, the positivity rate will surge too. However, it has not done so: rising from 9.7% at the beginning of December to the latest reading of 10.4% - a move that is barely perceptible compared to previous waves. When read alongside the more accurate Covid infection Survey, this suggests the actual rise in cases is not as severe as reported and may have not have occurred at all. This is basic stuff. Why did the government and its scientific advisors spark panic and alarmist headlines in breach of WHO protocols?
Unreliable data of this kind destroys trust in our leaders and institutions. The last time we saw ‘sexing up’ of research on this scale was in the run-up to the Iraq War. That led to disastrous decision-making and a catastrophic loss of public trust. Furthermore, the government is playing straight into the hands of ‘anti-vaxx’ groups and conspiracy theorists. When it comes to Covid messaging, this is the ultimate own goal.
Fortunately, there are alternative data-sets and methodologies that could be developed. Sadly, Excess deaths is no longer reliable given the growth in non-Covid excess deaths resulting from pandemic measures; such as undiagnosed cancers and ‘deaths of despair.’
The most useful measure is deaths where Covid is mentioned on the death certificate. However this too has major flaws. Where a frail patient passes away, it is rarely known what exactly kills them or contributes to the death. Doctors need only a suspicion that Covid was a contributory factor to add it to the death certificate. In practice, this will include potentially thousands of ailments that share one or more symptoms with Covid. As the list of Covid symptoms gets longer and longer, the virus is becoming a convenient proxy for any undiagnosed ailment which contributes to death in a frail patient. This is like attributing all road deaths to motorbike accidents.
A more consistent and reliable definition of a Covid death is badly needed. This should require:
1) Evidence the patient actually had Covid. Accessing tests is now so cheap and quick there is no excuse for not verifying this.
2) A But-For Test: That is, but for covid, the patient would have been likely to live for at least another two weeks.
Furthermore, data on Covid deaths and hospitalisations needs to be standardised across the UK. Without uniform data, there is no way for devolved governments to deliver an effective and co-ordinated response, or to compare the success of different approaches.
What needs explaining is why, 21 months into the biggest crisis in 70 years, we are still not being provided with reliable and accurate data? Indeed, the data is not even consistent across devolved regions.
This is yet another example of top-down failure to deliver. We are paying more in taxes than ever before and yet patients are not being treated, cancers are not being diagnosed, our borders are not secure, dangerous criminals are not tracked, children are not being educated, abuse is not being detected, and we cannot even get a reliable set of Covid data. What has the government been doing for the past two years?
The continued response to Covid is becoming a wider national debate. The Prime Minister has asked for public dialogue on compulsory vaccination. How exactly can the public participate in a debate without reliable data?
Simultaneously, Westminster and regional governments are asking the public to make judgements for themselves, rather than rely on hard laws. For this to happen effectively we need to ensure there is data available that gives a true picture of the evolving pandemic.
The government and health authorities must not mislead us. Ministers need look no further than North Shropshire to appreciate how voters feel about being deceived. The current headline Covid statistics are not fit for purpose. We should change them.