bristol

What the Modellers Still Don’t Understand About Herd Immunity

Bristol’s Professor Philip Thomas has a new piece in the Spectator this week. Readers may recall that I criticised his previous pieces for what seemed in my view to be wildly over-the-top predictions of the likely scale of the Delta surge.

In June, he predicted “an enormous final wave“, in which the virus “would quickly seek out the one-in-three Britons who are still susceptible: mainly the not-yet-vaccinated” and peak in the middle of July (the bit he got right) “at anywhere between two million and four million active infections“. According to the ONS, around 951,700 people in the U.K. were PCR positive in the week ending July 24th, and that appears to be the peak, which is less than half of Professor Thomas’s lower estimate.

He now admits: “The situation is better than I bargained for at the beginning of June and also better than my estimates a month later.” In fact, it’s so much better, that he thinks “the decline in active infections can only mean that England is about to reach the herd immunity threshold for the Delta variant”. By which he means that “around 86% of England’s adults and children must now be immune”. On this basis he argues that it is “extremely unlikely” that there will be a new Covid surge in the coming winter.

The problem with this analysis is it is still based on the SAGE assumption that herd immunity is a once-for-all-time thing, that was made harder to reach by the more transmissible Delta variant, but which we have now just achieved, mostly through vaccination, and it will now keep us safe.

SAGE Models Wrong Already: Hospital Occupancy is HALF What they Predict. Here’s What they Get Wrong

The models the Government is relying on to justify continuing lockdown have not got off to a good start. The projections of the huge summer wave should “freedom day” not be delayed are, as of June 21st (so before any delay could make a difference), almost twice as high for hospital occupancy as the actual number of Covid patients in hospital (see graph above).

Here’s a similar graph from the Spectator with the hospital admissions data superimposed on various SAGE projections (keep track of it here).

Fraser Nelson at the Spectator seems to share our scepticism at Lockdown Sceptics about Government modelling, reminding readers of the notorious SAGE autumn projections that envisaged up to 4,000 deaths a day by early December, but which were inaccurate the day they were published.

However, he then endorses scarcely less pessimistic modelling from Bristol University, which predicts that “hospitalisations peak at just over 900 on August 20th”.

While he admits that “no scenario points to the NHS being overwhelmed” since “Covid patients would occupy 2.5% of hospital beds” (at most), nonetheless he thinks the Government was right to delay the end of restrictions. This is because:

Homelessness More Than Tripled in Bristol during Lockdowns

Homelessness rates in cities like Bristol have increased significantly over the past year of lockdowns, including the number of families with children needing temporary accommodation, with figures surging after each lockdown. Reasons such as domestic abuse have been cited for causing this surge. BBC News has the story on homelessness in Bristol.

Paul Sylvester described the 330% increase during the past year as “absolutely massive”.

He was speaking during a multi-agency housing group meeting on the impact of Covid on homelessness in the city.

Families with children in temporary accommodation went up by 11%, but the number of rough sleepers fell.

Mr Sylvester, Head of Housing Options at Bristol City Council, said homelessness surged after each lockdown, with the biggest rise after the third, as coronavirus took its toll on families and relationships.

The number of people made homeless because they were told to leave by family or friends doubled during the past 12 months, he said. 

Relationship breakdown and domestic abuse were also factors, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

“The increase in singles has been absolutely massive, up by 330%, compared to before Covid,” he said.

Mr Sylvester said the “Everyone In” campaign in the first lockdown saw nearly 300 people given beds in hotels and youth hostels.

He said emergency funding had helped bring the number of rough sleepers in Bristol to an historic low of 20 in January 2020 but this had since risen to around the “mid 40s”, compared with around 130 in 2019.

Worth reading in full.

A report from the Observer in January suggests that the rise of homelessness is not isolated to Bristol.

More than 70,000 households have been made homeless since the start of the pandemic, with tens of thousands more threatened with homelessness, despite Government pledges to protect tenants and prevent evictions, according to figures compiled by the Observer

But despite the Government banning evictions for most of the last 10 months, the Observer’s figures show that 207,543 households approached their local council for help with homelessness or the threat of homelessness between the start of April and the end of November 2020.

Of these, 50,561 were “owed the prevention duty”, meaning they were judged to be threatened with homelessness, while 70,309 were “owed the relief duty”, meaning they were already homeless, which is defined more broadly than rough sleeping.

Also worth reading in full.