ENTERTAINMENT

BEN SPENCER analyzes the good news charts that the experts didn't show you


We were told four times yesterday that the Covid numbers are going in the wrong direction.

Cases have risen, hospital admissions have risen and deaths have risen, the nation's dismal news conference said.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's principal scientific advisor, warned: “This is going in the wrong direction. There is absolutely no reason to be complacent here. "

Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, agreed. "This is definitely the wrong way to go." Yesterday, 71 deaths from Covid were recorded across the UK.

A little over six months ago, on March 21 – two days before the nation was locked down – the exact same number of deaths were reported.

The government is keen to prevent the virus from suddenly spiraling out of control. If cases rise it could overwhelm the NHS. But all the signs indicate that this is out of the question. Yes, the cases are worryingly high. Yes, hospital admissions have doubled in a week. And yes, 71 deaths are a tragedy

The symmetry is terrifying and the message from Boris Johnson and his advisors was clear: follow the rules, stick to the line, or else we will have no choice but to lock the country again. The prime minister warned that the nation is at a "critical moment" and said: "We will not hesitate to take further measures which, unfortunately, would be more expensive than those we have now put in place."

But while cases and deaths are actually on the rise, the UK is in a much better position than it was in the spring. On March 21, when 71 people died from Covid, we were at the beginning of a rising curve that was about to rise.

A few days later, the daily death toll had reached 1,000. The cases doubled every three to four days, Professor Whitty reminded us yesterday. The last time he and Sir Patrick performed together on Downing Street ten days ago, they predicted that cases would double every seven days.

That, too, now seems to be a pessimistic forecast. In reality, the data suggests that cases are rising much more slowly and possibly doubling as slowly as they do every 21 days.

This may seem like a sucker, after all, as cases increase, hospitalizations and deaths inevitably follow too.

Sir Patrick and Professor Whitty often look to France and Spain, which are said to be two to three weeks ahead of Britain on their way. While both countries have far higher cases than the UK, they haven't seen anything like the spike seen in the spring

Sir Patrick and Professor Whitty often look to France and Spain, said to be two to three weeks ahead of Britain on their way. While both countries have far higher cases than the UK, they haven't seen anything like the surge seen in the spring

However, the speed of the climb, the gradient of the graph, is critical if the cost of flattening the curve were this high.

The government is keen to prevent the virus from suddenly spiraling out of control. If cases rise it could overwhelm the NHS.

But all the signs indicate that this is out of the question. Yes, the cases are worryingly high. Yes, hospital admissions have doubled in a week. And yes, 71 deaths are a tragedy.

But all of these numbers have been increasing very gradually over the past few weeks.

And a large study by Imperial College London, based on tens of thousands of tests, suggested last night that the rate of growth may even be slowing. The crucial R-rate has been estimated to have dropped to 1.1 from a high of about 1.5 the week before, suggesting that recent restrictions are working. Exponential growth doesn't seem to be imminent.

Sir Patrick and Professor Whitty often look to France and Spain, said to be two to three weeks ahead of Britain on their way.

While both countries have far higher cases than the UK, they haven't seen anything like the spike seen in the spring.

Daily cases in both countries are around 12,000 using the seven-day moving average, which flattens the peaks and troughs of daily coverage.

That number has remained roughly the same in France over the past week, and in Spain it has actually decreased slightly. Deaths in both countries are also high – France has about double the daily deaths in the UK and Spain about three times.

But here, too, both have remained pretty stable over the past fortnight.

In no country is the virus so out of control as it was in the spring. Much has been done of the 7,000 new coronavirus cases reported in the UK yesterday and the day before. While these are the highest numbers recorded, the country ran only a fraction of the tests last spring, so only a tiny fraction of the cases were discovered.

If we had done the same number of tests then as now, we would probably have seen between 80,000 and 100,000 infections per day.

In that regard, what we are currently experiencing is more of a ripple than a second wave. The PM is very aware of the cost of other restrictions. After a string of bloody headlines about missing cancer screenings during the last shutdown, he was quick to stress last night that the NHS is still open for business.

Its officials predict that 74,000 people will die as an indirect result of the spring lockdown – many from staying away from hospitals.

Mr Johnson must be sure, before ordering a rerun, that the cure is no worse than the disease.