Don't panic! Ten reasons there is so much less to fear from a second wave of ...

With summer now a distant memory, a cloud of doom seems to have returned to these shores. 

Yesterday, Britain recorded over 2,400 new Covid-19 cases for the third day in a row, raising the prospect of a fearsome second spike.

While England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam warned that the latest surge in cases is ‘of great concern’, Health Secretary Matt Hancock was far more blunt.

Pointing to the rise in infections among Britain’s young, he urged them: ‘Don’t kill your gran by catching coronavirus and passing it on.’

Indeed, such is the fear among officials that one member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has even suggested Christmas could be called off.

But before we sink into apocalyptic misery, let’s look at the science.

For despite the doom and gloom, not everything is as bad as it seems, writes John Naish. 

In fact, as these ten reasons reveal, all the indications are that Covid-19’s second strike won’t be nearly as bad as the first ...

1. Proportion of positive tests is down

Yes, more people are testing positive for Covid-19. But rather than simply being the result of a surge in infections, it’s also because far more tests are being carried out now than at the height of the pandemic in April and March.

Back then, only a fraction of the people who were seriously ill were tested, so the early daily figures of 5,000 new infections were a mere fraction of the true total.

More importantly, whereas in April 40 per cent of test results were positive, this figure has plummeted to only 2.3 per cent in the community and 0.5 per cent in hospitals.

Data from Public Health England shows that more than 40 per cent of coronavirus tests done in hospitals were positive in March and April but this has now plummeted and remains below 2.5 per cent in both hospitals and the community. This shows that there remains only a small proportion of people with the symptoms of coronavirus who actually have it

Data from Public Health England shows that more than 40 per cent of coronavirus tests done in hospitals were positive in March and April but this has now plummeted and remains below 2.5 per cent in both hospitals and the community. This shows that there remains only a small proportion of people with the symptoms of coronavirus who actually have it

 

The number of tests being done is significantly higher than it was at the peak of the outbreak, and is still only finding relatively small number of cases. The number of infections during March and April were a massive underestimate because testing was limited only to those sick enough to be in hospital

The number of tests being done is significantly higher than it was at the peak of the outbreak, and is still only finding relatively small number of cases. The number of infections during March and April were a massive underestimate because testing was limited only to those sick enough to be in hospital   

2. Infections are far less virulent

While cases of Covid-19 have been creeping up in the UK since early July, death rates among those infected have plummeted.

In fact, researchers at Oxford University have found that the percentage of those infected with Covid-19 who die from it fell from 6 per cent on June 24 to only 1.5 per cent on August 5.

That amounts to a four-fold drop in less than six weeks. While it may sound callous, one explanation for this is that the virus claimed the most vulnerable victims first, causing a strikingly high initial fatality rate.

But another reason could be that coronavirus is being spread in smaller doses, thanks to social distancing. This means people may be getting less intensely infected, and are thus more likely to beat the virus.

As the statistician Tim Harford wrote on these pages recently, the prospect of dying from Covid-19 is not much more than taking a bath.

The numbers of people being admitted to hospital with coronavirus have plummeted across Europe since the height of the pandemic, which may be because people are developing less serious illness now, partly because cases are in younger people

The numbers of people being admitted to hospital with coronavirus have plummeted across Europe since the height of the pandemic, which may be because people are developing less serious illness now, partly because cases are in younger people 

3. Fatalities are also falling

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), coronavirus fatalities are no longer inflating the overall excess death rate in England and Wales.

Yesterday, there were 30 more deaths reported in Britain from Covid-19 — the biggest spike in six weeks. But according to the ONS’s data for the week ending August 28, there were 599 fewer deaths than the previous week.

Office for National Statistics data shows that deaths from coronavirus in England and Wales have fallen dramatically in the past six months, from more than 1,200 per day at the height of the pandemic, to fewer than 100 per week in August

Office for National Statistics data shows that deaths from coronavirus in England and Wales have fallen dramatically in the past six months, from more than 1,200 per day at the height of the pandemic, to fewer than 100 per week in August

4. We’ve found life-saving drugs

When Covid-19 first hit, doctors across the globe were forced to improvise treatments as scientists scrambled to find a cure.

Early on, many patients in intensive care were put on ventilators, despite the fact that this is now regarded as an ineffective, and in some cases dangerous, treatment.

The good news is that in recent months cheap and effective medicines have been discovered in the form of two steroid drugs, dexamethasone and hydrocortisone.

Just last week, a major study showed that treatment with these steroids can save eight lives for every 100 critically ill patients treated — a figure hailed as ‘impressive’ by its researchers.

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