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Doc Hines - Covid News & Views - 15th September 2021

Mid September 2021, and eighteen months into the pandemic, what is the adult population of Britain? The short answer is that no one has any real idea. Everything is based on guess estimates, people come up with widely differing figures. The last count was in 2011 and we counted again in 2021 with the last census. That is yet to be published so the results are unknown yet.

The next go to figures available are the number of adults registered with a GP in England. That can be counted easily from records, but a few moments thought will tell you it’s really quite inaccurate. A significant number of British adults are not registered with a GP having been removed from a list perhaps after moving home and have not found a reason to re-register. Many have left the UK after Brexit without being removed from a list. Others have emigrated or died and for some reason the GP records are not updated. No matter how hard GPs and Health Authorities try, it has always been impossible to avoid list inflation.

If you have never listened to it, I commend a Radio Four programme which is called More or Less. This aims to demystify statistics and help people realise the limitations and inaccuracy of statistics. There are false figures everywhere at present, so whether accidental or deliberate please take care and carefully consider the accuracy of things you read, even from reputable sources.

Please look at today’s figures extra critically. I have pointed out the variations due to the days of the week, and the low figures for Sunday and Monday with higher figures on Tuesdays and Wednesdays as they catch up.

There were 880,000 tests done yesterday compared with 1,043,118 on Monday. Can you explain the difference? Despite doing 100k less tests, yesterday produced 30, 597 positive tests compared with 26,628 today. How do you explain that? There were 18.4 % less positive tests in the last week. The positive case rate has dropped a little to 360 per 100k of the population.

Deaths reported were 185 yesterday and 201 today. That is 41 more in the last 7 days or a rise of 4.4%. The death rate is very low at only 1.4 per 100,000 of the population. How do we interpret that?

Turning to hospital data; admissions on a single day were 1,009 on 9th September but only 836 on 11th September. The total in hospital was 8,413 on 13th September but only 8,340 on the 14th September. Is this significant? We need to see three figures in a row trending down before we can say it may be significant. As far as ventilator use is concerned there were 1,060 in use yesterday compared with just 4 less the day before. What are the factors that determine how accurate those figures are?

Less controversial are the vaccination statistics. 45.48 million first doses are given or 89.2% and 44.17 million doses or 81.3% of the population. I started by saying we do not know the population size so these figures are subject to change depending on whose statistics you use.

As an explanation we may know that x number of doses have been given. We should have counted those accurately. When we look at y, the number needed to be given the formula looks like this X/y x 100%. If we add or subtract a million from the y figure it greatly changes the result.

Every now and again figures are changed by Government sources just to confuse us. Tomorrow is one such day when the population size estimates will change to the mid 2020 estimates. This will affect many of the calculations you are used to.

There have been lots of announcements in the last 48 hours but little or no information that is new. It seems policy now to widely leak decisions for a few days to gauge reaction before making them official.

The Government plans for the winter are to be known as Plan A or Plan B. Plan A is more of the same, continuing a relaxed attitude to precautions and relying on the vaccine and hoping there is no significant mutation which means action is required in which case any or all of the measures we are used to could be reintroduced, but as lockdown is a dirty word that will not be used.

We cannot control mutations and the emergence of new resistant variants. We can continue to push for the 6 million odd unvaccinated to change their minds, We will offer vaccine to the over 12s and boosters in time, to the older part of the population 6 months after their second dose. The very vulnerable will also get a booster.

Plan B means we are failing to get control, the NHS is not coping. Then we will return to compulsory masks, keeping 2 metres apart, working from home, and requiring Covid Passports.

Most sensible people will continue doing these precautionary measures now. We do not have to wait till Boris says his plan A is not helping. We can all help it work if we ensure our flu vac is given, the children are immunised, most I have spoken to are very keen, and the new boosters are utilised.

There are 5 pillars to this plan

1. Is the use of vaccine to its fullest

2. The use of booster vaccine in the elderly together with the flu vaccine. Youngsters off to University should not forget to get their meningitis vaccine which has helped significantly reduce meningitis deaths in students,

3. There is £50 million invested in further research

4. Track and Trace will continue its good work. But we do need people to heed their advice.

5. There will be a new framework for international travel to be announced soon.

Prof Van Tam, everybody’s favourite, says we have a rocky ride ahead this winter. I am sure we have, but we can make it easier for ourselves. Although the death rate remains significant without vaccine it would be many times higher. It remains our best defence. Children over 12 who want the vaccine can be helped by the school immunisation service to get jabbed against parental wishes in the situation where agreement cannot be reached.

I am going to consider myself working to plan B already and I urge you to as well. I always welcome your comments and thoughts, the interpretation of statistics is one such area, looking after the best interests of children is another. I was told I did not need to wear a mask. I responded by saying I was wearing it to protect them, and others nearby. The person concerned said she had never considered it that way and thanked me.

So please stay safe and help keep other safe.

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