“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
Possibly Mark Twain
Over the past few days more and more cries have been heard for the relaxation of the lockdown in the Britain. I have sympathy for with these requests as there are many deaths can also be attributed to economic hardship that has come from the lockdown (this figure will be very difficult to calculate but over time there will be increases in suicides for example). We all will suffer from a massive depression which is what we may well be heading for if the lockdown isn’t lifted as soon as is reasonably possible.
But when to lift or ease the restrictions? That is the question on everyone’s mind. At the moment there does seem to be a favourite country that all of the people wanting to lift the restrictions as quickly as possible point to – Sweden – as an example that Britain should follow. (It has to be said there is a whiff of right wing ideology about many of these people but we’ll park that thought for the time being.). So I decide to look at the available data for myself and to do this I looked at basket of countries(1) near to Britain to provide some context. The dataset I chose to use was deaths/million population. The reason for this is twofold:
- First a death is a common fact across all of the countries whereas number of infections is much more reliant on testing which as we all know is very variable and
- Second whilst there will always be some variation of categorising a death may vary it is still the most reliable data point.
Finally the data source I used was the WorldoMeter website
So over the past week the Death Rate per Million of Britain compared to Sweden was as follows:
As can be seen Sweden’s deaths per million is much lower than Britain’s but the trend line is still upwards. One explanation for this figure is that perhaps Sweden is maybe a week behind Britain but even if this is the case they are on trend to have a lower death rate/Million than Britain.
When the death rate change of Britain and Sweden is compared to the median change of the basket of countries it can be seen that perhaps Sweden is over the worst of the current wave of the pandemic.
If this is the case then the trend will be much flatter going forward. So all this points to the fact that Britain needs to adopt the more libertarian approach of Sweden as the costs of a continued lockdown in economic and death rates will be excessive.
This is all very persuasive until you consider one other country – Germany.
Germany has had a strict lockdown for much longer than Britain and they don’t seem to have had anything like the deaths that Britain nor Sweden has had. Their trend rate is at a much lower angle compared to both Britain and Sweden.
You can use statistics to prove most things, other than perhaps injecting disinfectant is a good idea! Why should all be aware of this before we listen to anyone who claims to have the answer, based on the stats. This is a hugely complicated problem for every country. We are nowhere near close to knowing what has worked and what hasn’t beacuse we are nowhere near the end of this pandemic which will continue in some form or another until there is a vaccine or we acquire a level of herd immunity as to push to reinfection rates down to almost zero.
Perhaps the morale of this story is that there are no simple answers but rather choosing the best bad option available. The people making the loudest noise are those who don’t have to make that choice (this includes President Trump has it is down to the state Governors to decide not President Trump!) and they have my best wishes as I wouldn’t want that responsibility.