this is a week old, but it’s very good as a summary of those long byline news articles

Boris Johnson’s Government Hides Covid-19 Data That Is Needed To Control New Local Outbreaks
Moon of Alabama, Jun 30 2020

Britain has had quite a problem with the Covid-19 epidemic. The coronavirus travails of Boris Johnson did not help. The countrywide lockdown came too late and had therefore stay on longer than elsewhere. In Apr 2020 monthly GDP fell by 20.4%. So far England and Wales have had some 50k deaths from the coronavirus. Scotland registered some 2.5k deaths and North Ireland some 550. After the long lockdown the number of deaths per day has normalized. The data from the Office for National Statistics shows that no more excess deaths occur.

That is good news but there are still very bad surprises. The British government is still hiding information on Covid-19 testing results. It is not even sure how large the current reproduction rate of the epidemic is. This at a time when people, businesses and local administrations need such data as guidance on how much they have to limit their contacts to keep the epidemic under control. Yesterday the British Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that the city and metro area of Leicester with some 840,000 inhabitants had to go back under lockdown. The people in Leicester had no idea that such an order was coming. They had anticipated to go back to the pubs which were supposed to reopen on July 4. The announcement came as a surprise for even the city’s mayor:

The mayor of Leicester, Sir Peter Soulsby, has told a press conference he was “a little surprised” when the local lockdown was suggested by government because officials hadn’t been given any data to suggest there were any “particular issues” in the city at that point. He said he had a virtual meeting with the secretary of state the following day, when he pushed for the figures that showed coronavirus cases had spiked in the city. Sir Peter said it took “quite some time to get any decent data through to us” and it didn’t arrive until a week later. The mayor said his colleagues are still working through the “mountain” of data they have now received to map it and see where in the community the virus is still active and might be spreading.

The mayor and the people of Leicester had looked at the government’s coronavirus page and the publicly available data of daily new cases in their region. That data showed sinking numbers.

But as the Financial Times’ John Burn-Murdoch just pointed out that data is very incomplete. It includes only those cases which were tested in hospitals. At the onset of the epidemic testing was rather rare and only done in hospitals when new patients came in. At that time that data was all that was available. But now there is public testing available and the greatest number of new cases are coming from there. A different British government website explains that the total count consists of categories:

Breakdown of testing by testing strategy ‘pillars’

  • Pillar 1: swab testing in Public Health England (PHE) labs and NHS hospitals for those with a clinical need, and health and care workers;
  • Pillar 2: swab testing for the wider population, as set out in government guidance;
  • Pillar 3: serology testing to show if people have antibodies from having had COVID-19;
  • Pillar 4: blood and swab testing for national surveillance supported by PHE, ONS, and research, academic, and scientific partners to learn more about the prevalence and spread of the virus and for other testing research purposes, such as the accuracy and ease of use of home testing.

The data on the official coronavirus website the British government promoted only show the new daily cases number of Pillar 1, the hospital testing. That fact is not even mentioned on the overview page that most people look at. The Financial Times data group has now constructed the real picture (paywalled) from data they have received from a different source. This is the real data from Leicester for all new cases.

Almost all of them are from Pillar 2, the public testing outside of hospitals. Nobody in Leicester knew that the numbers of new cases in their city had spiked over the last two weeks. Now nothing and nobody is prepared for a new local lockdown. The police do not know how to manage it. Why isn’t that data publicized? Not only is the data flow completely insufficient, but the testing situation in Britain is also still bad:

The mayor of Leicester has said officials struggled to persuade testing staff to stick around despite a major coronavirus outbreak in the city. ‘Sir’ Peter Soulsby said testing had been “pretty patchy” and “not sufficiently systematic” to allow local public health experts to get a proper picture of the outbreak, which has prompted the first localised lockdown in England. ‘Sir’ Peter, a former Labour MP, claimed officials had spent time trying to persuade testing staff to stay in Leicester rather than “decamp to go and measure elsewhere.” ‘Sir’ Peter said testing was finally ramping up in Leicester but expressed concern that local leaders had been slow to receive information from government.

That Boris Johnson’s government is unwilling to hand local new cases data to the local governments is only one of its dozens of major screw-ups during the pandemic. Informing the public as detailed as possible is the very first and most important point in any epidemic preparation plan. The people can not help to fight the epidemic if they have no information about its current extent. Looking from the outside its hard to understand how the people and the media in the UK let their government get away with these and the many other willful mistakes it has made during the last months.

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