By Christopher Monckton of Brenchley
The United Kingdom now has a higher death toll than any other European country, and the second-highest in the world after the United States. Yesterday’s officially declared count was 29,427 (433 per million population), just above Italy’s 29,315 (485 per million).
However, Fig. 1, from the Cabinet Office daily briefing, shows that the seven-day rolling mean recorded daily deaths has been falling since April 14, about three weeks after the Prime Minister announced the British lockdown:
Fig. 1. UK recorded daily Chinese-virus deaths, March 14 to May 5, 2020 (COBR)
By contrast, the United States had reported 72,271 total deaths to yesterday, or 218 per million population.
However, such international league-table comparisons are problematic, for several reasons. The start-dates for the infection vary from country to country. Worse, the World Health Organization has failed to implement an agreed reporting standard for deaths. Therefore, different countries count the deaths in widely differing ways.
China, for instance, has been under-reporting both cases and deaths from the outset, and has recently ceased to report deaths altogether, even though outbreaks are known to be occurring in various provinces, notably Heiliongjiang.
For some weeks, the United Kingdom did not report deaths that occurred outside hospitals. This turned out to be a grave mistake, for it transpired that large numbers were dying in care homes, a problem that several countries have faced. Fig. 2 shows reported deaths by sector. It is about ten days behind the times, since the recording of deaths by the Office for National Statistics is a slower but more complete process than HM Government’s daily totals.
Now that the United Kingdom does report deaths in care homes and in all other settings as well as in hospitals, it is closer to the true numbers than Italy, for instance, where a recent audit suggested that fewer than half of all Chinese-virus deaths were being reported.
Fig. 2. UK recorded weekly Chinese-virus deaths by sector
However, even the more complete figures provided by the Office for National Statistics appear to be a significant undercount. For instance, the ONS weekly statistical report for the week ending April 24 shows that 8237 Chinese-virus deaths occurred. However, the excess mortality compared with the same week averaged over the previous five years was 11,539, suggesting that even HM Government’s revised death counts are underestimating the true position by 40%. If so, the true cumulative death toll may well exceed 41,000.
In the long run, and in the absence of a competent, internationally-standardized reporting protocol, it is the excess deaths that will be the best guide to the true fatality rate.
That the statistics should have been so inadequately kept as to allow a grave discrepancy between Chinese-virus deaths and excess mortality even in Western countries is bad enough. However, elsewhere in the world the under-reporting is still more severe.
In Brazil, for instance, where the President decided that no lockdown was needed despite the high population densities in the major cities, the hospital system has been overwhelmed, mass graves are being dug and the number of deaths reported is a severe understatement of the true position. The President also fired his health minister, who had criticized him for not following social distancing guidelines.
The Cabinet Office briefing on daily new cases (Fig. 3) shows that a peak was reached about two weeks after the Prime Minister’s announcement of the lockdown. The fact that the peaks in new cases and in deaths occurred two weeks and three weeks respectively after the lockdown was announced is an indication that the measures have had some effect.
Fig. 3. UK daily new Chinese-virus cases, March 21 to May 5, 2020.
Of the countries we have been monitoring, only Canada has a daily growth-rate in active cases (Fig. 4): all the others now show declines.
Fig. 4. Mean compound daily growth rates in estimated active cases of COVID-19 for the world excluding China (red) and for several individual nations averaged over the successive seven-day periods ending on all dates from April 8 to May 5, 2020.
As for cumulative deaths, Canada is again the high-end outlier, with a daily compound growth rate exceeding 5%. All others, including the U.S.A., are at or below 3%. However, there are signs that the slowing of the growth rates is itself slowing. Lockdowns can now be brought to an end, but with caution.
Fig. 5. Mean compound daily growth rates in cumulative COVID-19 deaths for the world excluding China (red) and for several individual nations averaged over the successive seven-day periods ending on all dates from April 15 to May 5, 2020.
Today’s column will be the last in this series. I hope that readers will have found it useful to see, day by day, the decline in growth rates that provides governments with the opportunity to phase out their lockdowns.