Lockdown – why we had to act when we did, and how we know it worked.

In this post I wanted to touch a bit on these growing questions of “did we really need to lockdown?” and “did it actually do anything?”, but to answer those first I think we need to discuss a little about how with think about the virus. 

So let’s get stuck in….

Graphs from Post 4

The graphs in Post 4 show people reporting symptoms and the % positive tests (graphs B & C, see post 4 for how I calculated B) have now decreased and levelled off, even if the actual number of new cases is staying similar (graph A), hence why we are easing lockdown.

Someone asked the very good question of whether we should be easing lockdown when the excess deaths have still not levelled off (graph D)? Sadly, what we have to consider here is that it takes on average ~3 weeks between infection (~4 days before symptoms) and death; so while the excess deaths may give us the most realistic picture of the true spread of the virus, this picture reflects how widespread infections were ~3 weeks ago, not how widespread the virus is today… These patients who we sadly see die every day are already ill and probably already in hospital, so the actual number of infections in the community is now ‘low’, hence the easing of lockdown. So maybe we can pat ourselves on the back briefly for a small and costly victory, but we must now look to what is coming next. The virus is still here. 

This is where I think we need to reconsider how we are thinking about the virus. I don’t agree with politicians describing COVID as like an “invisible enemy” or an “invisible mugger”. To humanise the virus is like our ancestors thinking there was a ‘god of thunder’ or a ‘god of the sea’, it unnecessarily projects human characteristics onto a natural phenomenon… Thinking like this confuses the situation and loses us an important advantage, because if you fight off an enemy, they may come up with a new way to attack you… If you fend off a mugger, they may not come back…

This will not happen here. 

It is a virus.

It does not think.

It does not feel. 

It will do exactly what it has done before, just as we saw it did in China and Italy and Spain before us. 

I prefer to think of our situation as like us all being in a rowboat at sea, slowly drifting into the eye of a storm. The storm does not hate us, it just exists as a part of nature, but it will sink us if we let it. The only way out is for us all to act together and row. No one individual is getting out of this on their own, and if we don’t act together then we will all drift further into the storm. 

Want some proof of the effect of us acting together? Let’s look at the data:

We can measure symptoms of COVID, we can measure the % positive tests, and we can measure the death count. But what about the actual point of infection? When did these people actually become infected with COVID?

Well, reports say recovery from symptoms occurs ~10 days after infection, and the peak of symptoms was April 1st (graph C)…

…and reports say hospitalisation occurs ~14 days after infection, and the peak of % positive cases starts ~April 4th (graph B)…

…and reports say death occurs on average ~21 days after infection, and the peak of deaths was on April 10th (graph D)…

...so when was the actual peak in infections?

10 days before April 1st is March 21st.

14 days before April 4th is March 21st.

21 days before April 10th is March 20th. 

And what was the big change we made around March 21st?… 

You’ve guessed it: we locked down.

That is obviously some back-of-the-beermat analysis (apologies but the data is obviously very cloudy and I’m just doing this in my spare time), there is obviously some room for error in the data, and the timelines for disease progression are quite crude generalisations. This may account for the 2 day difference between March 21st and 23rd – but what I hope you can see is that from the moment we all really started acting together hard on fighting this, the virus started to recede

And to anyone protesting lockdown who says 36,000 deaths means it didn’t work:

Half of those people were already infected with COVID-19 at the point when we locked down. Tragically they were dead already but we just didn’t know it yet…

…the other half got it because we didn’t lock down hard enough.

If we only act when the death toll increases, then we can expect the death toll to continue increasing at the same rate for ~3 weeks. Undoubtedly we acted too late, but thank god we did act – even one more day delay would have meant one more day at the peak on the way up, and one more day at the peak on the way down.  

If we act randomly then COVID-19 will spread again, exactly as it did before. That is what a virus does, not some “invisible enemy”. Now is not the time to stop rowing because the sea looks calm – if we do then we will drift back into the storm just as we did before, and we all know how much harder it will be to row ourselves out a second time. The way out of this is by continuing to act together in a concerted manner to halt the spread as we have done recently…

Next time I will try to touch on the R number and WTF was that new UK government slogan about?… But for now, someone pass me my fucking oar.

2 thoughts on “Lockdown – why we had to act when we did, and how we know it worked.

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