Following the local ‘lockdown’ in Leicester, lots of people – including newspaper editors – are anxious to answer the question ‘are we next?’.
The lack of reliable Government data poses two problems: firstly, making towns look worse than they are; and secondly making people question why they are in Lockdown.
Data in the UK is disclosed on the Coronavirus data service . Let’s look at what we can see. Here’s Leicester – completely unremarkable. So what’s going on?
The data here is from Public Health England – but crucially this only is the so-called Pillar 1 data – from PHE and the NHS hospital labs. By far the majority of testing is done by Pillar 2 – NHS Test and Trace and the commerial testing operations.
Pillar 1 can pick up spikes in hospitals but crucially it does not pick up community outbreaks. For this we need the Pillar 2 data. And we don’t have it.
The only source is PHE’s surveillance report – the latest being Week 26 (week ending 25 June 2020)
Here we can see Leicester as a red area, denoting more than 45 cases per week. But there are many other areas where there are many cases. Why are they not being locked down? The answer is – we don’t know, because we don’t have the data. And the data has only been released to Directors of Public Health in local councils very recently – and even then only to those that have signed a data protection record. In some ways, having a map with partial data is less use than having no map at all.
Data has been a real issue with the handling of the pandemic, with the Prime Minister launching a new version of the Coronavirus data dashboard last Thursday . But even here, on this brand new dashboard, we see that the Government is showing that there have been no hospital admissions since 16 June. This is plainly wrong, and needs to be fixed immediately. Without the confidence in the data, the public will be hard pressed to see why new lockdown measures need to be introduced, with the reduced compliance with those measures that that will bring
The Home Secretary, when questioned on the BBC Andrew Marr show announced on Sunday 28 June
‘there is going to be a Leicester lockdown?’ ‘So, there will be support going into Leicester … with local flare-ups, it’s right that we have a local solution’
But looking at the public data from coronavirus.data.gov on Covid infections, Leicester does not have a significant problem:
It is only when you look at the Public Health England surveillance report, you notice something awry.
Why the dispartity? This comes from the difference in how tests are reported. Coronavirus.data.gov only reveals so-called ‘Pillar 1’ tests (those in the NHS), wheres the PHE maps include both Pillar 1 and Pillar 2, the latter being conducted under the auspices of NHS Test and Trace and other commercial partners.
Data from Pillar 2 tests is only just getting through to Directors of Public Health. And the number of people tested is still not disclosed (the number of people tested is still ‘unavailable’).
Public Health England only report publicly the level of outbreaks at the Upper Tier Local Authority level (mostly county councils, unless there are large cities such as Leicester where the are unitary authorities).
So, how do we know that there isn’t an outbreak in our local area? Basically, we don’t. But the PHE surveillance report is the best we have for now. Also worth examining the cluster of outbreaks around Manchester (which may be outbreaks in schools or hospitals)
What appears to be unusual about the Leicester outbreak is that it does not appear to have been traced back to care homes, hospitals, or schools. It appears to be community transmission, and is the first real test of the Government’s policy of preventing a resurgence of COVID-19
The news that UK business secretary Alok Sharma has been tested for Covid-19 highlighted the issue of survivorship bias, that is the systematic overestimation of performance and underestimation of risk by ignoring non-survivors.
In the early stages of the epidemic, the risk perception of politicians broadly matched that of the general population. However, if the proportion of decision makes that have been infected by the virus and survived exceeds that of the population, the executive’s risk appetite could surpass that of the people they represent.
Politicians need to ensure that they make decisions in such a way that suvivorship bias does not affect their judgment.
Dr Duncan Robertson
School of Business and Economics, Loughborough University