More Scaremongering From PHE About the “Twice as Deadly” Indian Variant

Infections are on the rise according to the ONS and, despite the vaccines (and the fact that fully-open U.S. states continue not to see a rise in infections let alone the prophesied mass hospitalisations and deaths), talk has once again turned to keeping restrictions going beyond June 21st. Portugal has been brutally struck from the green list, ruining the holidays of tens of thousands of Brits. Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, has suggested social distancing could continue for the rest of the year.

Driving the fear is the Delta (Indian) variant, which new data from Public Health England suggests could have more than double the risk of hospitalisation compared to the Alpha (British) variant. The Guardian reports:

An analysis of 38,805 sequenced cases in England revealed that the Delta [Indian] variant was associated with a 2.61 times higher risk of hospitalisation within 14 days of specimen date than the Alpha [British] variant. There was a 1.67 times higher risk of A&E care within 14 days. These figures take into account factors such as age, sex, ethnicity, area of residence and vaccination status.

It appears PHE has been up to its usual tricks again though. While the data adjusted for age, sex, ethnicity and so on might produce these alarming results, the raw data tells the opposite story. Here’s the relevant table with some key figures highlighted:

Far from showing double the risk of serious disease, in the raw figures a smaller percentage of Delta (Indian) cases versus Alpha (British) cases went to A&E (5.1% vs 5.6%), stayed in hospital (1.5% vs 2.5%) or died (0.2% vs 1.2%). The two groups are presumably very different demographically, which is why PHE’s adjustments were so radical. But the big question is, how reliable can findings really be when the reported results are adjusted so drastically from the raw data, bearing in mind the guesswork these adjustments involve?

Early Delta (Indian) variant hotspots also give reasons not to panic, with Bolton’s positive Covid tests and hospital patients already on the decline.

Is anyone else getting a wearying sense of déjà vu? As Ross Clark notes:

We have been here before. In January Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser, held a press conference to announce, glumly, that the Kent variant appeared to have a mortality rate 30% higher than previous variants. That led news bulletins. Less noticed were two studies published in the Lancet and Lancet Infectious Diseases in April which analysed the data and concluded that, after all, the Kent variant was no more deadly than previous variants.

Who’d bet against a similarly quiet and belated admission happening here, once the panic has done its damage?

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