Covid clampdown could have been bad, writes PROFESSOR PHILIP THOMAS

Covid clampdown now could have been catastrophic… common sense has prevailed, writes PROFESSOR PHILIP THOMAS

Common sense has prevailed, at least for now. Faced with a blizzard of dire predictions and scarifying statistics, Boris Johnson and the Cabinet have held their nerve.

No new Covid restrictions will be introduced before the New Year.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has sensibly urged people not to throw caution to the wind when enjoying parties on December 31 – but in England at least, parties are permitted.

That is immensely important. Another clampdown could have been catastrophic for society, the economy and for general mental health.

It would also have been based on a fundamental misunderstanding of statistics. When we focus on the worst case scenarios for the current wave, the situation might appear bleak.

Professor Neil Ferguson from Imperial College London has warned of 10,000 hospital admissions a day. The reality is far from that – in fact, yesterday’s NHS figures show there were fewer than 10,000 Covid patients in hospital in the whole of England. The actual total was 8,474.

It is never safe to base policy decisions on worst case scenarios.

In statistical models, the most pessimistic forecasts will be an extremely poor predictor of reality. Because of the spread of probable outcomes, we can be 97 per cent confident that whatever happens will be better than the worst prediction. That is not wishful thinking. It’s mathematics.

Some gloom-mongers, including a number who sit on the Government’s Sage committee, believe it’s always safer to plan for the very worst.

But that strategy can only work if the precautions are relatively painless. This is not the case with Covid restrictions, which have closed down society and the economy.

Our gross domestic product has still not recovered to where it was two years ago, before Covid struck. Without a strong economic rebound, more people are likely to be killed by the financial consequences of lockdown restrictions than ever died with Covid. The risk assessment method I have been developing at the University of Bristol, dubbed Judgment-value, proves the economy has to improve continuously if we and our children are to live healthier and longer lives.

Already, the cost of earlier lockdowns is mounting. We are seeing a backlog of NHS treatments for life-threatening diseases, as well as increased domestic abuse and disruptions to education. We cannot afford to exacerbate these problems.

It is all too easy to focus on those bleak ‘worst case scenarios’ and ignore more upbeat news. Shortly before Christmas, the UK Health Security Agency revealed England was experiencing between 50 and 70 per cent fewer hospitalisations with Omicron than it had with Delta.

There was further good news in the weekend’s results released yesterday, with hospitalisations showing little increase. In London, admissions on Christmas Day were lower than two days earlier at 364, down from 390.

Some people might have been concerned to hear just before Christmas that the number of people with an active infection in England rose to over 1.5 million in mid-December.

But this was expected. Thanks to the number-crunching power of Bristol’s Predictor Corrector Coronavirus Filter (PCCF), that’s close to the figure I predicted in the Daily Mail.

The total number of active infections may well exceed three million at the height of the wave, according to the PCCF, and we may see the daily number admitted to hospital peaking at around 3,000 in England.

But that’s well below the 4,130 we saw at the peak in January – and daily deaths should stay well below what we saw in January too.

Philip Thomas is Visiting Academic Professor at the University of Bristol.

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