The second wave peaked before lockdown began

The number of people admitted to hospital with Covid has also started to slow. The Prime Minister says that a still rising number of deaths justifies lockdown. But the number of new cases tends to be two weeks ahead of hospitalisations and four weeks ahead of deaths, meaning that the peak in deaths should come at about the time the lockdown is due to end in early December. It will be wrong to credit lockdown for a fall in deaths until mid December.

The Government’s dashboard says the latest daily death rate, averaged over seven days (and defined as deaths within 28 days of a positive test) is 355. This is bad, but lower than expected by the four models used last Saturday to alarm us into lockdown, especially the now notorious Cambridge University/Public Health England model, which expected around 1,000 deaths a day by now, on course for a peak of 4,000 deaths a day. That forecast had twice been updated, producing much lower numbers, a fact omitted from the Downing Street briefing.

The first wave of infections also peaked before lockdown began, resulting in a peak of deaths on April 8. Voluntary social distancing had already begun to take effect. Now it is probably the regional, tiered restrictions that made the difference, although it cannot be ruled out that the wave is just running out of steam. This would happen if the virus relatively quickly depletes the population of superspreaders, people who for social or biological reasons are more likely to catch and pass on the virus.

The Government’s “reasonable worst case scenario”, still unpublished, seems to have bizarrely assumed no increase in cases until mid November, so it’s no wonder we are worse off than that. Like most respiratory viruses, Covid likes colder weather and prefers to spread indoors: it broke out in chilly abattoirs during the summer. An autumn second wave was probably inevitable, especially given the start of school and university terms. Locking down young people in March may have made it worse by ensuring there was a bigger population of susceptibles.

In 1889-90 a new respiratory virus with similar symptoms to Covid killed a million people, mainly the elderly and disproportionately men, as it spread around the world from Russia. Genetic evidence suggests it may have been a coronavirus, the one now known as OC43.

It too faded in summer but came back for a second wave in the autumn. It then largely ceased killing people, but it never went away: it is still with us as one of the causes of the common cold.

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