Behind the curve. The mathematics of deaths.

Peter Fairbrother peter at
Thu Mar 12 14:54:54 PDT 2020

Please recirculate freely.

Behind the curve. The mathematics of deaths.

The present United Kingdom strategy on COVID-19 was to initially try to 
contain the virus with a weak containment policy, and when that failed 
to move to the "delay phase" we are in now to try to slow its spread. 
This delay would place a lower maximum load on healthcare, spread 
heathcare requirements over time, and thereby allow more per-patient care.

An underlying assumption and consequential end result of that policy is 
that practically everybody in the UK will inevitably eventually catch 
the virus.

And the Red Death will hold illimitable dominion over all.

The strategy made sense if, as was believed when it was made, there 
would be no way of eventually stopping the epidemic by containment, 
something I myself believed.

However, that does not seem to be the case: the disease is not quite as 
infectious as at first thought, as recent evidence shows that the 
Chinese have managed to slow it almost to a stop using strong confinement.

If they succeed in containing the disease, as seems very likely, then 
most Chinese people will never catch the virus - whereas if the present 
UK policy is continued then at some point a majority of people in the UK 
will catch the disease, and a million people will die unnecessarily [1].

So what new policy should be adopted? Well we have the Chinese example 
to follow. Strong containment is working for the Chinese, it should work 
for us.

All people entering the UK should be quarantined. The UK has a "moat" in 
the seas surrounding it, and should take advantage of that.

Schools and universities should close. Large public gatherings should be 

People should be encouraged to wear masks, not discouraged - even a tiny 
difference in transmission rate can be the straw which will make the 
difference between the epidemic dying out or growing: that is how the 
chain reaction of an epidemic works. If each infected person infects 
more than one other person on average then the epidemic spreads, if on 
average each infected person infects less than one then the epidemic 
dies out.

We should be taking extreme measures to get that figure of new 
infections per case down to less than 1. Testing should be stepped up by 
at least an order of magnitude. Medical staff should have the power to 
require testing, and if positive then quarantine should be enforced if 

But most of all, we have to stop thinking that a million people will die 
and there is nothing we can do to prevent it.

Diligent and intense containment can work if we are willing to pay the 
price now, the Chinese example is proof of that. Any delay in 
implementing strong containment will cost lives. Failing to implement 
strong confinement will result in a million unnecessary deaths over the 
next few months.

[1] "One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic." - Joe 

The UK age demographic contains more older people than the Chinese, and 
older people are far more likely to die of COVID-19 than younger people; 
so the UK fatality rate would be more than the Chinese rate, which works 
out to a bit over a million deaths if we assume 3/4 of the population 
get the virus.

A delay to provide better health care might reduce the death toll to 
about a million. Strong confinement now could reduce it to a few thousand.

Peter Fairbrother

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