Coronavirus UK: ‘Sombrero’ graph less likely than rollercoaster


In the early days of Britain’s coronavirus outbreak, leading scientists predicted the crisis would take a sombrero-hat shape on graphs.

But leading experts say it is unlikely the UK will have a symmetrical curve, instead it could look more like steps as it starts to shoot downwards.

None of the UK’s European neighbours have seen their daily COVID-19 deaths and cases drop off sharply after hitting the peak of the crisis.

For example, Italy’s fatality rate per million people jumped 2.4-fold in the fortnight before hitting the peak on April 3. However, data shows it is taking much longer to drop, with the rate having not even halved in the last 14 days.

And its rate of new cases per million people went steadily up but has took a much different step-like pattern down with several small spikes.

Charts paint a similar asymmetric picture in Spain – the worst-hit nation in Europe. And leading experts expect the UK to follow a similar trend.

For example, Italy's fatality rate per million people jumped 2.4-fold in the fortnight before hitting the peak on April 3. However, data shows it is taking much longer to drop, with the rate having not even halved in the last 14 days

For example, Italy’s fatality rate per million people jumped 2.4-fold in the fortnight before hitting the peak on April 3. However, data shows it is taking much longer to drop, with the rate having not even halved in the last 14 days

MailOnline has mapped the coronavirus crisis day-by-day to show how it has really panned out in comparison, showing a rollercoaster of fluctuations

MailOnline has mapped the coronavirus crisis day-by-day to show how it has really panned out in comparison, showing a rollercoaster of fluctuations

Government officials produced a graph in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, showing the cases following a smooth curve (pictured, the red line with no measures, and the green line with the action later imposed on the whole of the UK, such as social distancing)

Government officials produced a graph in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, showing the cases following a smooth curve (pictured, the red line with no measures, and the green line with the action later imposed on the whole of the UK, such as social distancing)

Daily tallies rely on a number of factors including how many people are being tested or how quickly deaths are reported. Pictured: The death rate since March 4

Daily tallies rely on a number of factors including how many people are being tested or how quickly deaths are reported. Pictured: The death rate since March 4

Dr Joshua Moon, of University of Sussex’s Science Policy Research Unit, explained that ‘predictions are always based on assumptions.

He told MailOnline the reality will be a ‘lot messier’, adding: ‘What I think we are likely to see is something like a series of steps.

‘As we start to see the deaths decline, there will be a loosening of current lockdown restrictions. The decrease will either slow down, or reverse for a bit.’

But Dr Moon said as draconian restrictions are lifted across European nations, more people will start infecting each other again.

Spain and Italy have already re-started some industries, offering hope to Britons that there will be an end to the UK’s unprecedented lockdown.

Explaining how Britain could get a smoother decline, he added: ‘The key to reduction is keeping on top of cases and all their contacts.

HOW QUICKLY HAVE CASES AND DEATHS DROPPED IN EUROPE? 

Italy’s daily death toll began its rapid ascent on March 10, with figures showing its death rate per million people was around 0.97.

By March 20 it had risen to 5.6 before eventually starting to slow day-on-day eight days later (12.06).

The nation’s daily fatality count peaked on April 3, with 13.59 deaths recorded for every one million people.

Its death rate then began to decline quickly, plummeting to 9.85 by April 11. Figures show it has slowed since, with the rate today being 9.19.

Spain’s death toll began to climb on March 21 (2.69) and rose at a much steeper rate than Italy, overtaking its neighbour by March 29 (13.33).

Its rate peaked on April 4 (18.57) and now sits at just less than 12, according to an analysis of official figures by the website Our World in Data.

But it also rose much quicker than it dropped, going from 2.69 a fortnight before it peaked to the 11.89 recorded today.

Top scientists have repeatedly warned that Britain is two or three weeks behind its European neighbours, meaning it has yet to start its descent.

But figures are beginning to show promise, as health officials announced only 847 new fatalities today.

It means the daily death rate has stayed below 900 for six days in a row, suggesting the UK’s darkest days are behind us.

Figures show the four deadliest days of the UK’s crisis were between April 8 and 11 (938, 881, 980, 917).

Department of Health data shows 3,716 deaths were recorded in the spell, roughly a quarter of all of the 14,576 deaths to date.

But the rate of new cases looks even different on graphs, with Italy’s outbreak having a rollercoaster-like appearance on graphs.

Data showed it rose steadily to 99.80 on March 23, up from 19.39 two weeks earlier. In comparison, the rate has dropped by just 24 in the fortnight after (75.56).

Between the peak and now, the rate actually increased on 10 different days – a trend which was mirrored in Spain, France and Germany.

The UK’s new cases rate appeared to peak on April 13, with a rate of 94.29 for every one million people. But it dropped rapidly over the following two days.

Today it rose slightly (71.06 up from 69.71), as officials declared more than 5,500 new infections – up from 4,617 yesterday.

‘Once a person is diagnosed, you need to sit down and interview them about the last seven days of their life.

‘Within that you find contacts and you isolate all those people, instead of the whole population.’

He said that Britain’s exit strategy has to include contact tracing, or transmission will ‘just spiral out of control and we will be back in lockdown within six months’.

Dr Moon added: ‘That’s why it will be a step wise pattern because it will take a while to get back on top of it once lockdown is eased.’

Italy’s daily death toll began its rapid ascent on March 10, with figures showing its death rate per million people was around 0.97.

By March 20 it had risen to 5.6 before eventually starting to slow day-on-day eight days later (12.06).

The nation’s daily fatality count peaked on April 3, with 13.59 deaths recorded for every one million people.

Its death rate then began to decline quickly, plummeting to 9.85 by April 11. Figures show it has slowed since, with the rate today being 9.19.

Spain’s death toll began to climb on March 21 (2.69) and rose at a much steeper rate than Italy, overtaking its neighbour by March 29 (13.33).

Its rate peaked on April 4 (18.57) and now sits at just less than 12, according to an analysis of official figures by the website Our World in Data .

But it also rose much quicker than it dropped, going from 2.69 a fortnight before it peaked to the 11.89 recorded today.

Top scientists have repeatedly warned that Britain is two or three weeks behind its European neighbours, meaning it has yet to start its descent.

But figures are beginning to show promise, as health officials announced only 847 new fatalities today.

It means the daily death rate has stayed below 900 for six days in a row, suggesting the UK’s darkest days are behind us.

Figures show the four deadliest days of the UK’s crisis were between April 8 and 11 (938, 881, 980, 917).

Department of Health data shows 3,716 deaths were recorded in the spell, roughly a quarter of all of the 14,576 deaths to date.

But the rate of new cases looks even different on graphs, with Italy’s outbreak having a rollercoaster-like appearance on graphs.

Data showed it rose steadily to 99.80 on March 23, up from 19.39 two weeks earlier. In comparison, the rate has dropped by just 24 in the fortnight after (75.56).

Between the peak and now, the rate actually increased on 10 different days – a trend which was mirrored in Spain, France and Germany.

The UK’s new cases rate appeared to peak on April 13, with a rate of 94.29 for every one million people. But it dropped rapidly over the following two days.

Today it rose slightly (71.06 up from 69.71), as officials declared more than 5,500 new infections – up from 4,617 yesterday.

Before the UK went into a full-scale lockdown, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his advisers presented what they forecast to happen in the following months.

The first press briefing at No10 Downing Street, on March 12, was accompanied with presentation slides showing the expected curve of the UK’s pandemic.

One line represented where a huge peak of cases would sit if no action was taken – at the end of April – and the other line showed how the peak could be reduced.

Both lines were smooth and symmetrical – indicating a drop in cases as dramatic as the incline.

The reality is always different. Tallies rely on a number of factors including how many people are being tested or how quickly deaths are reported.

When there are more swabs analysed, a spike in cases lags behind because it takes a couple of days for the results to come back.

The bigger picture shows cases have steadily increased for the past two months, hitting almost 108,700 so far. But now, they appear to be stabilising

The bigger picture shows cases have steadily increased for the past two months, hitting almost 108,700 so far. But now, they appear to be stabilising

Joshua Moon, a research fellow at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) University of Sussex said it's a better idea to look at a 'moving average' - which combines data for a number of days (such as this graph for deaths)

Joshua Moon, a research fellow at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) University of Sussex said it’s a better idea to look at a ‘moving average’ – which combines data for a number of days (such as this graph for deaths)

Testing capacity has altered a lot over the outbreak - it's slowly been increased to reach figures of no more than 14,100 per day. Testing will largely dictate how many cases are reported

Testing capacity has altered a lot over the outbreak – it’s slowly been increased to reach figures of no more than 14,100 per day. Testing will largely dictate how many cases are reported

BRITAIN’S INFECTION RATE IS ‘FRIGHTENING’ EU LEADERS

The UK is recording the largest number of new coronavirus cases in deaths in Europe and the rate at which they are soaring is ‘frightening’ other EU states, Austria’s health minister said on Wednesday.

Rudi Anschober highlighted the rapid growth in UK cases at a press conference in Vienna where he hailed Austria’s own success in slowing the outbreak.

The minister held up a chart showing the average daily growth in infections over the last 10 days, on which Austria performed best and Britain worst.

‘That’s what’s frightening a lot of people on a European level at the moment, that’s the figure in Britain of 7.5 per cent,’ he said, pointing to the UK column.

The equivalent figure for Austria was 1.8 per cent, according to the minister’s graph.

The figures were 5.7 per cent in Sweden, 3.7 per cent in France, 3.2 per cent in Spain, 3.0 per cent in Germany, 2.5 per cent in Italy and 2.2 per cent in Switzerland, his figures showed.

Several countries are seeing a slowing down in the spread of coronavirus after half the population of the world found themselves under lockdown.

Previous hotspots like Italy and Spain are seeing new infections start to decline, but Dr Hans Kluge, World Health Organisation director for Europe, said the ‘optimistic signs’ of the virus receding on some parts of the continent were being cancelled out by bad news elsewhere.

He pointed to the United Kingdom, along with the likes of Belarus and Russia, as reason to believe that Europe is still ‘in the eye of the COVID-19 storm’.

Underlining his point is the fact that daily death tolls have continued to rise in many places even as new infections fall, due to the time it takes an infected person to become sick enough to die. 

For example, the highest jump in new cases so far – 8,719 on April 11 – came three days after the highest number of tests on a singular day was reported on April 7.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has set a goal of reaching 100,000 tests per day by the end of April.

If these goals are met, potentially thousands more cases be detected. Mr Moon said: ‘If we hit the 100,000, I would imagine we would see a slight spike.

‘But the hope is that with social distancing measures in place, that would reduce transmission enough that we see a plateau forming.

‘At the moment we have a lot of questions. Are these figures an artefact of testing, or are these the real numbers? There is a lot of uncertainty around that.’

Looking at trends over weeks or months, rather than singular days, is the preferred way to analyse the outbreak, Dr Moon said.

It’s what ministers will be doing to decide when the draconian lockdown – imposed on March 23 and extended for three more weeks – can be lifted.

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, of Cambridge University, said: ‘There is inevitable variation from day-to-day due to the play of chance.

‘But also systematic differences because, for example, weekends and holidays can affect both testing activity and reporting of deaths.’

Professor Spiegelhalter said: ‘When we look at daily reported deaths, we see a curve that roughly follows Italy by around two weeks.

‘It looks like an underlying decline in daily deaths may have started, although we cannot be sure.

‘Broadly, we might expect the UK to follow a similar trend as Italy, whose curve is not symmetric – the decline is not as rapid as the increase.’

Health officials have emphasised the weekend has an impact on how rolling cases or deaths are recorded in the week, which may explain fluctuations.

Moreover, the daily death toll announced each day – which is only from hospitals – is not what it seems.

The information is always a day behind due to how DHSC collects information from hospitals, and sometimes included fatalities that happened days before. 

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, who is based at the Faculty of Mathematics at Cambridge University, said: 'Broadly, we might expect the UK to follow a similar trend as Italy (pictured)'

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, who is based at the Faculty of Mathematics at Cambridge University, said: ‘Broadly, we might expect the UK to follow a similar trend as Italy (pictured)’

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