COVID predictions fulfilled

My predictions, that is, rather than the Government’s. The headline in the online Daily Mail just now reads:

“Matt Hancock urges England to stay vigilant after major study said rate of decline in Covid cases has SLOWED.”

Well, of course it has slowed. And the fact that Matt Hancock does not see why, after all this time, is par for the course.

The UK’s ONS data says that the number of positive tests over the last week was 50,208. That number is, in itself, completely meaningless without a context, the most immediately useful being that the number of tests performed over the same period was 4,391,640. That gives a percentage positive rate of 1.14%.

Now recall that Hancock said in Parliament last year (making a complete guess, actually) that the false positive rate for PCR tests is 1%. He should obviously realise that, on that basis, the decline has slowed because the virus has more or less disappeared, and we’re hitting the false positive baseline, so there is little scope for further decrease. That he doesn’t realise this means that he doesn’t even listen to himself, or else fails to understand what he is saying.

Now, there are some complications to that. A proportion of the tests being done are no longer PCR tests, but LFT tests, and they have a false positive rate of nearer 0.3%, which just happens to be the rate they have been getting among schoolchildren using LFT tests. It’s not easy to tell what percentage of tests are of this type overall, though – there is a separate chart for PCR tests which suggests more of them being done in the last week than the total tests, so something can’t be right there. But the percentage of LFT tests, whatever it is, will tend to lower the overall false positive rate (but increase the false negative rate, if there are any real cases about).

BUT on the other hand, over the summer period last year, when it is pretty certain now that the virus was scarcely around, the positive test rate, all from PCR, was constant at around 1.6% as the number of tests went up, until the infection season began in September and the percentage crept up. So our current 1.14% of positives is already lower than what seems to have been a false positive baseline last summer. Maybe LFT tests help explain this.

Another confounding factor, as my pharmacist friend reminded me, is that PCR tests, still not properly standardised, will be picking up as positives plenty of dead viral fragments from those who were infected over the winter, and that would tend to push the case numbers up and hence slow the decline.

With all that in mind, things look (as always) far better than the pessimistic government and risk-averse SAGE groupthink fears. Our lockdown and exemplary vaccination programme have succeeded richly! Except that’s not what’s happening, as any fule gno. Whilst age-differences seem to demonstrate a more rapid fall in positive tests among those vaccinated, exactly the same kind of overall fall is seen in the EuroMOMO data from every single country in Europe. In fact, together with Israel, Portugal and Spain our fall came rather later than most. Exactly the same pattern is seen in the overall US figures too, and it is no doubt even more masked in the northern states. And the pattern is just the same in Canada.

In other words, it’s as clear as day that the primary driver of the improvement in COVID across the entire northern hemisphere is nothing whatsoever to do with interventions medical or non-medical. They differ from nation to nation, and in particular the scandal of the EU’s inability to vaccinate their people quickly has been an ongoing issue this year. No, the drop in cases is by far primarily due to the natural seasonal decline that I predicted, not particularly cleverly, as lockdown began in December.

So it looks very much as if it’s over for the winter, and on comparison with other novel viruses it is likely to be over permanently, bar the shouting. That is, unless the Government insists on wasting money on ongoing testing of the healthy, and then cranking it up when the flu season gets going again in the autumn. In that case, Lord Sumption may well be right in saying that, with the unspoken taboo against governments imprisoning the population gone, we could start the lockdown pattern all over again – only with even less money in the national coffers.

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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11 Responses to COVID predictions fulfilled

  1. Jon Garvey says:

    A reader has just drawn my attention to the fact that Amazon has refused to sell the English language version of a new book on COVID, on the grounds that knowledge is changing so fast they’re directing people to official sources of information. It’s by one Sebastian Rushworth M.D., if you want to follow up.

    The only surprise is that one isn’t surprised by crude censorship at a global level any more. But imagine, a few years ago, trying to find a Quran, in the “religion” section of W. H. Smith, and finding a notice that instead of selling that, they direct you to the Church of England for official information on religion.

    • Jon Garvey says:


      Just as a gesture, I started to buy a few books through ABE, which was the network of private bookshops I’ve been using for secondhand stuff for years.

      Yesterday, though, I discovered that the firm I’ve bought the last two from through ABE, the Book Depository, is owned by … guess who. Amazon.

      Only it doesn’t end there. It turns out that Amazon bought out ABE itself in 2008. That has a lot to do with the dissolving of re-sale partnerships with all firms except Amazon. And the fact that the CEO is a former Amazon man. And the fact that in 2018 they stopped supporting sellers from countries they disapproved of, ie South Korea, Hungary and the Czech Republic, leading to several hundred other sellers pulling out (thus, sadly, making themselves less visible in the global marketplace in favour of Amazon).

      To my knowledge, Amazon has now censored children’s books, books on COVID, books on gender dysphoria, books on climate. If Amazon won’t sell something, publishers already know it’s not worth taking it on. So we’re headed for a world where a private corporation is the sole arbiter of what we may read. Hold on to all your hard copies of old books – you may take the place of the mediaeval monasteries in conserving knowledge soon.

      eBay appears to be financially separate, but has also been involved in banning Dr Seuss, so we may anticipate full progressive control of the secondhand market too.

      Both corporations are active in data-harvesting (and Amazon’s new plan for shopping by surveillance takes us a long way into Chinese territory there).

      But there is no conspiracy. If you discovered one, you wouldn’t get to publish any books about it anyway.

  2. Peter Hickman says:

    The book was published in October 2020. I addition to reading the summary on Amazon I gleaned the following quotations from the book preface in a blog by one Becky Acres:

    “Regardless whether the current governmental decrees restricting, and even prohibiting, public worship by the church are viewed as warranted or unnecessary, all must agree that the decrees have impinged upon, if they have not forbidden altogether, the most important activity to which humans are called: the public worship of God, by the citizens of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus.
    All Christians, therefore, ought to consider with utmost care the message of this book, that the Christian church is duty-bound, in perfect right, to disregard and disobey the illicit orders of the civil government restricting and even forbidding the public worship of God by the entire congregation on the Lord’s Day. Uncritically to yield to the decrees of the state in the matter of public worship is indefensible.
    We must obey God … “

    “This book calls the hitherto compliant churches, including the most orthodox and conservative, which presently are not worshipping God, to repentance (sorrow over past disobedience) and conversion (change of behavior) …”

    “Uncritically to yield to the decrees of the state in the matter of public worship is indefensible.” (attributed to David Engelsma).

    This is me: Five months have elapsed since the book’s publication, the pandemic has subsided, and it appears that the call to some form of civil disobedience may soon become irrelevant as the governments lift their restrictions. However, the lessons of the last year should not be lost on us. A few churches that I know of decided that the Scriptural injunction to “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together” (Hebrews 10.25) was sufficient to justify them continuing to meet in person (rather than on Zoom); and, if called to account by their civil authorities, they would say, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than God” (Acts 4.19).

    The churches and their leadership were caught off-guard. I hope that the events of the last year will catalyse a debate amongst Christians about how they should properly behave if anything like this happens again.

    • Jon Garvey says:

      Another review I saw somewhere accused the book of “dividing the church,” by which presumably they mean that the default position for Christians is conformity to both the state and majorities. It reminds me of the common “emotionally manipulative” accusation made to the Reformers, that they were “dividing the seamless robe of Christ.”

      It’s almost convincing until you remember that exactly the same potential division occurred when worship was banned in Communist countries, or come to that when some people caused trouble by refusing to sacrifice to Caesar.

  3. Jon Garvey says:

    Reply to ChrisS:

    Nice review! And I never knew. That’s the trouble with samizdat – you never find out about reviews. Or even if anybody’s read it.

  4. Jon Garvey says:

    Stupid of the day: headlines say UK positive test rate is rising by 8% a week (though deaths are still falling). A year on from getting used to these stats, the journos are not bothering to check the denominator, ie the number of tests done. This figure has actually been going up by a stonking 110% a week (making it hard to believe the tests are being done on the symptomatic, as government policy dictates).

    If infections were steady, you’d of course expect 110% increase in cases too, as the proportion would be the same. An 8% rise actually represents a plummeting FALL in actual infections. The rate of positives is actually 0.45%, which is right at the false positive rate for the lateral flow test. The press’s ignorance you can excuse, but you have to ask why the government is still acting as if there is an epidemic when there is zilch happening.

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