10 March 2022
Lies, Damned Lies and Coronavirus
All quiet on the COVID front
by David Chilvers
Over the last two weeks, since my last article, the war in Ukraine has understandably become the focus of the media. The events unfolding there are indeed tragic and the free press has undertaken an amazing task, at considerable personal risk, in providing us with a clear view on what is happening. What this has meant, especially in TV news bulletins, is that other news items have been relegated to short items and in many cases, just not covered at all.
To give some examples; when was the last time you heard anything about the Metropolitan Police investigation into Partygate? Has the investigation finished? If so, what are the conclusions? If not, what is the timescale for publication?
When was the last time you saw any stories about small boats crossing the Channel with immigrants risking their lives in pursuit of freedom? The only time there has been a mention of immigrants in Calais has been in relation to Ukrainian refugees seeking a safe destination and being asked to go to Paris or Brussels or, more recently, Lille. Nothing about people in small boats as the Home Office has stopped producing daily counts.
And when was the last time you saw or read anything about COVID-19 in the UK? As far as the mainstream media is concerned, COVID has ceased to be a problem. Again, this is partly due to degradation of the data, as we highlighted recently. There are now no figures produced at weekends and this renders the data on tests, positive tests and deaths by day of reporting useless as the weekend figures are bundled into those reported on a Monday. So, most of the data on the Government coronavirus website is based upon specimen date (for tests) and date of death (for mortality). These data take several days to be finalised (even months in the case of number of deaths) and so understanding what is going on becomes more difficult. The Government has defended this by saying with the milder Omicron variant data on “cases” (positive tests) is misleading and only the harder data on hospital admissions and deaths is worthy of monitoring. But data on “cases” has previously been an early warning indicator of trouble ahead, even if the number of tests is steadily declining, as the chart below based upon data for England shows.
The number of tests undertaken will decline further from April when the Lateral Flow kits cease to be free.
The number of positive tests (“cases”) has flowed a similar pattern, although it has increased a little in the past couple of weeks.
As a result, the percentage of tests that generate a positive result has gone up quite a bit in the past two weeks, from around 4% to around 6%. Does this suggest trouble ahead?
As mentioned earlier, the Government is said to be focussing on harder data around hospital admissions and number of patients in hospital. So, what is happening to those metrics?
After a sustained decline from early January, hospital admissions are creeping up again. Does this mean more people in hospital with COVID-19?
Well not to any great degree yet but there is the start of an increase appearing and the numbers are still well in excess of the level seen before Omicron surfaced in late November. An increasing proportion of those in hospital with COVID are not being primarily treated for COVID – they went in with another condition and tested positive subsequently. This percentage now exceeds 50% and has done for a couple of months.
So, the news blackout on COVID has masked an increase in infection rates, a steady increase in hospital admissions in the past two weeks and a small increase in the number in hospital, although the majority of those in hospital were not admitted with COVID-19 (to remind readers, the number of admissions each day includes those already in hospital who tested positive on that day in addition to those actually admitted on that day with COVID as the reason for admission). As we have said before, no data means no story and the focus on Ukraine has exacerbated this to the extent that there are virtually no other issues worthy of reporting. One can understand this for TV news bulletins, with limited time and a lot to cover related to the war in Ukraine. But for the press not to continue to monitor other major stories seems a dereliction of duty – not just COVID but as highlighted Partygate and boats crossing the channel. All these problems have apparently gone away and I don’t imagine Boris Johnson is particularly concerned about that.
This article is one of a series, the previous article on “down with cases” is here.