Scientists did not have accurate Covid case numbers, and were unsure of hospitalisation and death rates when they published models suggesting that more than 500,000 people could die if Britain took no action in the first wave of the pandemic, it has emerged.
On March 16 2020, Imperial College published its “Report 9” paper suggesting that failing to take action could overwhelm the NHS within weeks and result in hundreds of thousands of deaths.
Before the paper, the UK coronavirus strategy was to flatten the peak rather than suppress the wave, but after the modelling was made public, the Government made a rapid u-turn, which eventually led to lockdown on March 23.
However SPI-M (Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling) minutes released to the Telegraph under a Freedom of Information request show that by March 16, modellers were still “uncertain” of case numbers “due to data limitations”.
The minutes show that members were waiting for comprehensive mortality data from Public Health England (PHE) and said that current best estimates for the infection fatality rate, hospitalisation rates, and the number of people needing intensive care were still uncertain.
They also believed that modelling only showed “proof of concept” that lockdowns could help, and warned that “further work would be required”.
It is more than a rebuke to Medley and the modellers though. This pandemic began, for many, with an announcement from Imperial College, whose study predicted 500,000 deaths if we did nothing. We locked down and never tested the prediction.
This time, in the face of what the public saw as dire predictions, we didn’t lock down and the apocalypse never came. The unspoken — and sometimes spoken — implication is clear: are we all fools?
Doctors are among the health workers least likely to be vaccinated against Covid-19, while fitness instructors, artists and waiters have some of the highest unjabbed rates overall.
New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show vaccination rates by profession at the end of last year. The data provides an early indication of which parts of the NHS and social care workforce could be hardest hit by the compulsory vaccination rule that comes into force in April.
Stephen Lock, my predecessor as editor of The BMJ, became worried about research fraud in the 1980s, but people thought his concerns eccentric. Research authorities insisted that fraud was rare, didn’t matter because science was self-correcting, and that no patients had suffered because of scientific fraud. All those reasons for not taking research fraud seriously have proved to be false, and, 40 years on from Lock’s concerns, we are realising that the problem is huge, the system encourages fraud, and we have no adequate way to respond.
Modelling that helped persuade the Government to delay the June 21 reopening was overly pessimistic and the lockdown lifting should “possibly” have gone ahead on time, a government adviser has admitted.
Dr Mike Tildesley, an epidemiologist from Warwick University, said Britain had been in a “much better situation than we thought” when his group released models suggesting third wave deaths could hit 72,000.
Hospitals have been told to change the way they collect data on patients infected with coronavirus to differentiate between those actually sick with symptoms and those who test positive while seeking treatment for something else.
The move would reduce the overall number of patients in hospital for coronavirus as until now data from hospitals has included all patients who tested positive for Covid-19, regardless of whether they had symptoms or not.
Lockdowns are ‘awful’ and Britain must learn to live with Covid without restrictions, one of the country’s most senior scientists has warned.
Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the measures had had ‘very profound consequences’ on the nation’s mental health, education and jobs.
Health and social care workers who felt under greater pressure from their employers to receive COVID-19 vaccination were more likely to decline it, according to preliminary new research highlighting factors influencing uptake.
So, the third wave is officially no more. New modelling by SPI-M, the government’s committee on modelling for pandemics, has, at a stroke, eradicated the predicted surge in new infections, hospital admissions and deaths which it had pencilled in for the autumn or winter as a result of lockdown being eased.
…As Philip Thomas explained here on Sunday, Imperial College has also assumed strangely low estimates for the number of people in Britain carrying antibodies. If you are going to use assumptions that are far more pessimistic than real world data suggests, it is small wonder that SPI-M keeps predicting waves and surges that turn out to be wide of the mark. The question is: why are these modelling teams using such negative assumptions?
Professor Neil Ferguson struck an unusually optimistic tone this week. With just one Covid death reported on Monday, and infection levels at an eight-month low in the UK, the architect of the original lockdown said: ‘The data is very encouraging and very much in line with what we expected.’ The first half of that statement is certainly true; the second half much less so.
EXPERTS have called for urgent action to protect children from the harm of lockdown, saying youngsters are being used in “an unethical mass experiment” and warning we are on the brink of a “national emergency”.
They are urging the Government to take urgent steps to examine and address the collateral damage that has been caused to children from issues such as school closures, lockdowns and social isolation as a result of the pandemic. One specialist is calling for a task force to be launched immediately and to remain in place for10 years, which would include experts in child abuse and neglect, childhood depression, suicide and anxiety, as well as physical, educational and developmental health.
- SAGE admitted early virus modelling based on figures from online encyclopedia
- Committee of scientists advising PM also had no expert on human coronavirus
- Dubious data formed the basis for the group’s calls for first national lockdown
- Experts predicted that the peak would be in June – but it actually came in April
- Impact of care home staff spreading Covid by working in multiple sites not considered
- Scientists failed to consider the impact agency workers would have on spreading Covid in care homes by moving between several different sites to work
- There were more than 30,000 excess deaths in care homes because of Covid in 2020
Professor Mark Jit, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and member of SPI-M, said the group used data from Wikipedia in the UK along with hospitalisations in China and Northern Italy to inform their modelling.
The coronavirus pandemic has peaked earlier than expected in many African countries, confounding early predictions, experts have told MPs.
Scientists do not yet know why, but one hypothesis is the possibility of people having pre-existing immunity to Covid-19, caused by exposure to other infections.
Prof Francesco Checchi, a specialist in epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told MPs it was “broadly” true that coronavirus had not behaved in expected ways in African countries, including Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan and Somalia.
Leading scientists across the world say rushing the development of a coronavirus vaccine to bring it to the public before the end of this year is unrealistic, unsafe, and even “crazy”.
Despite reports from across the world suggesting a vaccine could be ready in weeks – particularly from the United States, where “Operation Warp Speed” reportedly has officials on standby to distribute the vaccine by October, ahead of the presidential election – experts are increasingly concerned that the rhetoric is in no way matched by the data.
None of the leading vaccine candidates have yet completed clinical trials, the regulatory bodies who licence vaccines are already struggling to cope with coronavirus demands, and questions over manufacture and distribution haven’t been considered, experts say.
…In normal times, a vaccine takes up to ten years to develop, including several years of testing. Under the current plans outlined by politicians in the UK, Russia, and the United States, this has been crunched to less than 12 months.
CORONAVIRUS hospital admissions were over-counted at the peak of the pandemic as recovered patients returning to wards without Covid were included in the stats.
An investigation for the Government’s Science Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) found that people were being counted as ‘Covid hospital admissions’ if they had EVER had the virus.
Government figures show that, at the peak of the pandemic in early April, nearly 20,000 people a week were being admitted to hospital with coronavirus – but the true figure is now unknown because of the problem with over-counting.
This over-counting mirrors the problems with data for coronavirus deaths – where people who had died of other causes were being included in Covid-19 statistics if they had once tested positive.
Professor Graham Medley, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, asked by Sage to look into the situation, told The Telegraph: “By June, it was becoming clear that people were being admitted to hospital for non-Covid reasons who had tested positive many weeks before.
“Consequently, the NHS revised its situation report to accommodate this.”
But with no sign of a second summer wave nor an autumn eruption reminiscent of 1918, the commentariat has amended the definition. Suddenly, a “second wave” meant Covid’s seasonal return, in winter, a year on. Widespread adoption of a new phrase in the Covid lexicology – “winter wave” – has academically formalised the idea.
But instead of looking us square in the eye, the Tories have chosen Big Brother’s panopticon; No 10’s new Joint Biosecurity Centre, which will drive “whack-a-mole” local lockdowns, is slickness posing as strategy – and, as it happens, reporting into track-and-trace app failure Dido Harding. When the public twigs that the infection is unlikely to be controlled in this way, the sheer panic could send us back into national lockdown. Three scenarios might help avoid the latter: a vaccine comes along; the Government gets its act together with a plan to protect the vulnerable; or we put in place safety valves against mass hysteria.
Imperial College’s research needs to be particularly scrutinised, as its international influence grows. Dr Seth Flaxman – the first author in the paper that notoriously claimed lockdowns may have prevented over 3 million deaths in Europe – this week won fresh funding to model the pandemic across several countries.
Revelations that disrupt the narrative also need to find a stronger voice: within 24 hours, the scandal of PHE’s inflated daily death figures was running out of mileage. This week’s London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine modelling on the impact of the pandemic on cancer deaths never gathered steam. So too a paper by Oxford’s Prof Sunetra Gupta, which elegantly combined those uneasy epidemiological bedfellows – theory and evidence – to find some parts of the UK may already have reached herd immunity.
Researchers found school closures had little effect on preventing coronavirus transmission compared to that of the flu.
Under-20s are half as likely to catch COVID-19 as over-20s, making school closures less effective at stopping the spread of the virus, a new scientific study has found.
Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that susceptibility to the coronavirus was low for younger people, before increasing around the age of 20.