COVID-19: Local Report, February 16th 2021

Until now, all the reports I have done on the COVID-19 virus have been at a national and international level, comparing different countries’ performances against the virus. Today, I’m going to focus on new COVID cases reported over the past few months. And, particularly, on a small swathe of South-East England around my home.

A few weeks ago, I found a convenient source of data on new cases in England, broken down by borough. It is here: The data shown is weekly, in units of cases per 100,000 population over the course of a week. That means I have to multiply by 10/7 to convert to my preferred unit, cases per million per day (weekly averaged). Each data point covers a week from Wednesday to Tuesday. The data begins from the week ending October 13th, and is usually (but not always!) there by the Thursday after the Tuesday to which it refers.

The map below shows the borough in which I live (Waverley) in blue, and its seven neighbours in yellow:

Starting with the big borough to the north, and moving round clockwise, they are: Guildford, Mole Valley, Horsham, Chichester, East Hampshire, Hart and Rushmoor. The boroughs are all of roughly similar populations, but they have very different population densities:`

Here are the cases per million per day, up to February 16th:

Look at the far right of that graph. All eight boroughs are now down below the WHO’s “endemic” threshold of 200 cases per million per day, which is the point below which unlocking ought to be very seriously considered. This is true even for Rushmoor, which has been by far the hardest hit borough on the area. Note, also, that the case counts labelled with 16-Feb-21 actually refer to the week from February 10th to 16th inclusive. A snapshot taken today would probably give substantially lower figures again.

Now compare the case counts on the far right of the graph with those on the far left. We’re pretty much back where we were in October, aren’t we? And, prior to the “circuit-breaker” lockdown which began on November 5th, my borough and the ones to the south of it were in Tier 1; the rest were in Tier 2.

And yet, SAGE, the advisory body whose antics during September and October led to the November lockdown in the first place, were even in late January wittering about “a third huge spike in deaths unless inoculation cuts transmission significantly.” The Telegraph article at quotes one of their sub-committees as saying: “even in a best-case scenario, in which vaccines stop 85 per cent of transmission in those vaccinated, lockdown would have to be kept in place until the end of May to prevent another significant spike in deaths.”

This is typical of SAGE. When you look hard at it, SAGE seems to be just a clique of “woke” alarmists. And it seems less interested in its supposed remit of advising government on scientific matters, than it is in directing government policy over the epidemic. Moreover, SAGE’s policy of choice seems to be: Lock down for the sake of locking down! I wrote a fairly detailed analysis of the composition and behaviour of SAGE up until the middle of October here:

But I have news for SAGE, for Johnson, and for all other pro-lockdown junkies: UK weekly averaged COVID deaths have been on a downward trend for a whole month now!

As to the Reproduction Rate (R-rate) of the virus, that has been below the “magic threshold” of 1 continuously since about January 9th. It is now down around 0.7, a level not seen since the “second wave” began all the way back at the beginning of July. As shown here:

By the way, that’s evidence that the lockdowns since late November worked! But whether such a high level of lockdown was actually necessary is debatable, since the improvement in the R-rate began in the middle of December, well before the third and heaviest lockdown began. I’ll give Johnson the benefit of the doubt on that one for now. Though I will review it when next I come to assess the UK’s COVID performance against its European neighbours.

But the message that leaps out from the graphs above is that there is no good reason to continue the current level of lockdown on a national scale. The obvious and sane course of action is to return within days to the tiered lockdown system that was in place during October and (briefly) during December. Put individual areas into tiers appropriate to their latest case counts, have “Tier Four” (effectively, a local lockdown) available if necessary, and we should be fine.

And yet, Johnson is procrastinating, if not also prevaricating. Looking at, it looks as if nothing at all will happen until at least March 8th. And they say: “Lockdown is unlikely to be eased significantly until daily COVID cases are in the hundreds, compared with more than 10,000 a day now.” If the current week-to-week decline in the number of new cases (which has been at about 28% since the New Year) continues unchanged, that would take about 8 weeks from now by my calculation. And yet, they are talking about schools and shops possibly re-opening in March! The two, put together, make no sense at all. Meanwhile, there is talk of another blitz on face mask wearing and social distancing when the shops do re-open, just as there has been in the supermarkets since January 11th.

It looks as if all the good work that so many of our MPs – including Jeremy Hunt, my own MP – did back in the autumn in order to prevent SAGE overcooking the goose, has now been thrown away. Since November, Johnson’s policy on COVID seems to have been entirely dictated by SAGE. It’s hard to avoid the thought that, since Dominic Cummings left, Johnson has only been listening to the last person or committee who talked to him. And SAGE will rank very high indeed in Johnson’s mind on that score.

This is no way to run a country. We want our lives back! We want our economy back. We want our shops back. We want our pubs back. We want our social lives back. We want to be rid of those damned masks. We don’t want any “vaccine passport,” except perhaps as a temporary measure for international travel only. We, the ordinary people of England, have been patient – too patient, I think – for almost a year now. And our patience is nearing its end.


  1. Thank you for this article, Neil.

    I don’t quite see how you conclude that lockdowns since November have arguably worked. Looking at the tripartite graph of weekly cases, R rate and lockdown stringency, it does seem that, on each occasion, cases were in decline before lockdowns were promulgated. There seems to me to be no correlation at all.

    Not surprisingly, the R rate and raw weekly cases faithfully shadow each other, and again, it is interesting to note how weekly cases and R rate were dropping sharply as early as March before the first lockdown was introduced in the middle of that month.

    Here’s another thought. You are a mathematician, whereas I am not, but I do read quite a lot on the subject. I may have my mathematical terminology wrong here, but don’t you as a mathematically-literate person find these graphs very strange as a representation of the viral epidemiology? Surely what we should be seeing is some sort of negative feedback loop/bell curve pattern in which infection frequency increases, perhaps quite steeply, then plateaus, then tails off as community immunity is established and case virulence declines? Would you concur?

    Certainly, that is the pattern I would anticipate in a community that did not institute mandatory public health measures, such as lockdowns, face coverings, social distancing, etc. I would also expect the classic pattern even in a community that instituted special quarantines for certain at-risk groups, leaving the virus to run through the general population naturally. Would you agree with me that possibly the reason we don’t see this natural pattern in the UK is due to the very measures instituted, which have distorted – if I may put it this way – Mother Nature’s methods of immunising and limiting virulence among the ‘immuno-healthy’?

    If you agree, would you also agree that this leads to the further possible conclusion that the official response to Covid-19 has been not only clumsy and obnoxiously authoritarian illiberal, but also potentially harmful in prolonging seroprevalence, thus allowing the virus to mutate more dangerously than would otherwise be the case (and thereby also potentially jeopardising the efficacy of any vaccine)? Is this all a case of ‘doing too much’ and that old lesson of ‘less is more’ has been forgotten?

    My personal view is that none of this was ever needed in the first place, except arguably a temporary bar on entries from China. Otherwise, voluntary measures focused on the elderly would have been quite sufficient. It has all been quite ludicrous hysteria.

    • Tom,

      To start by clarifying exactly what the “weekly case growth” is. It is the percentage difference between new cases today and new cases a week ago – but both new cases counts are smoothed over a week at a time, to avoid the ratio becoming too jumpy. You would rightly expect this to correlate well with the R-rate – the number of further people infected by each infected person. An R-rate of 1 should mean a roughly constant number of new cases each day. Although, of course, when the virus finds a new seam of victims, the new case rate jumps up; and goes down again when it is having difficulty spreading.

      You mention the bell curve pattern. This is indeed what we see in the counts of new cases (and so, where lethality is constant, of deaths). You can see two (maybe three) such bell curves in the deaths graph. You can also see one in the local cases graph; although there it is sharper than you would expect for a bell curve, because the peak is narrow and the local data is only provided weekly. The measure I am using, weekly case growth, is the first derivative (rate of change) of the new case count.

      Your point that the R-rate started dropping last year before any lockdowns were introduced is well taken. But I think that is probably because once the virus has run through a population (such as those in a particular care home), it becomes more difficult for it to find a new set of victims to infect. The elevated R-rate becomes unsustainable, and has to drop back. But that the R-rate started dropping in mid-December, before the draconian third lockdown had even started, is rather more salient. Perhaps one of the smaller steps leading up to it may have made a difference? I’ve seen relatively small-looking lockdowns (in terms of stringency) having a significant effect in other countries. In fact, back on December 3rd I published a whole paper about that on this very site!

      And yes, the idea that the main (or even only) effect of the lockdowns has been to “prolong the agony” had occurred to me, too. Whether or not that was deliberate, and if so what were the motives, are questions I prefer not to speculate about at this time.

      • Regarding the graph pattern, why are there two or three bell curves? Shouldn’t there be just one, with maybe some variance here and there to allow for new strains or other variables? One explanation is seasonality, but this isn’t influenza. Why should it be seasonal? If it’s not seasonal, why should be have one than one significant graphical trend in cases/deaths?

        • Sorry, that last sentence should say: If it’s not seasonal, why should we have more than one significant graphical trend in cases/deaths?

        • Initially, I thought the virus was seasonal. But maybe that’s not so. Perhaps it may just be that it spreads better when people are indoors together a lot of the time? Including in air-conditioned offices, of course. Which would explain why countries like Saudi Arabia have suffered more than you might expect if it was seasonal.

          Why should there be multiple bell-shapes? Well, an obvious answer is that it dies out or nearly so, then it’s re-imported from outside. Look at the Iceland graphs on Worldometers to see that. Or an even better example, Djibouti. A less obvious answer is that a new variant comes along that is more transmissible. That’s what they’re telling us happened with the “UK strain” (which, from the evidence I see, seems to have started in Spain). I’m still open to persuasion either way on whether that’s what actually happened.

  2. is the PCR method used for testing in UK? Have they reduced the cycle count by half (from 40 to 20)? So they can say cases are going down? That’s what they’ve done here. Just like their global warming and the way they run elections: TOTAL FRAUD. This virus will vanish completely after you’ve tossed the last public official upon the funeral pyre. Real data and facts do not enter into their equation at all. The only thing you need to see to realize this is their reaction to HCQ, a perfectly safe and effective therapeutic. What did they do to credible medical professionals who spoke out on this? Shout down, discredit, censor….and yet the claims of the efficacy of HCQ have been proven true. Why would they do that? Because they are LYING. You know….that thing they do when their lips are moving?

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