ONS

More than Half of People ‘With’ Long Covid Might Not Have… Long Covid, According to New Research

New research by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests that more than half of those who are suffering ‘from’ long Covid might not actually have it and could simply be suffering from normal bouts of ill health. The Telegraph has the story.

The ONS surveyed nearly 27,000 people, who tested positive for Covid, in the U.K. Coronavirus Infection Survey and used three different methods to estimate the prevalence of long Covid.

In one analysis, they found that 5% reported at least one symptom 12 to 16 weeks after their infection.

However, the study also found that 3.4% of people who had not been diagnosed with Covid also reported the same long Covid symptoms.

Kevin McConway, Emeritus Professor of Applied Statistics at the Open University, said: “That’s not all that much less than the 5.0% for the infected people, which does show that having one or more of these symptoms isn’t uncommon regardless of Covid.”

Long Covid symptoms are fever, headache, muscle ache, weakness/tiredness, nausea/vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, sore throat, cough, shortness of breath, loss of taste and loss of smell.

However, the ONS said that such conditions were experienced regularly within the general population.

A second analysis found that just 3% of people reported continuous symptoms for at least 12 weeks after an infection, compared to 0.5% of the control population.

However, in a third analysis, when the group was asked to self-identify as suffering from long Covid, 11.7% said that they believed they had the condition, with 7.5% saying the condition limited their day-to-day activities.

When confined to only people who had suffered symptomatic Covid, the number saying they suffered from the condition rose to 17.7%.

Previous studies have suggested up to a fifth of people catching Covid will suffer from long-term after-effects.

The ONS said that depending on which measure was used, the data showed between three and 11.7% of Covid cases still had symptoms 12 weeks after an infection.

Worth reading in full.

Why is the ONS Claiming Just 1% of Covid Deaths Are in the Vaccinated When PHE Data Shows the True Figure For August was 70%?

The ONS has published a new study on Covid deaths which purports to show how few vaccinated people die of Covid. Here’s how the Telegraph reported the headline claim: “Only 59 fully vaccinated people without serious health conditions died from COVID-19 out of more than 50,000 deaths in England this year, new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.”

The Telegraph report continues:

In the first study of deaths by vaccination status, the ONS found that around 99% of COVID-19 deaths between January 2nd and July 2nd 2021 were in people who had not had two doses.

Overall 640 (1.2%) of deaths were in those who had received both vaccine doses, but the ONS said many of those could have been infections picked up before the second dose. 

Just 256 deaths (0.5%) were considered true “breakthrough” infections where the second dose had long enough to work, but still did not offer protection. 

However, the average age of those “breakthrough” infections was 84 and the majority (76%) were classed as “extremely clinically vulnerable”. Just 59 did not have serious medical conditions.

These statistics appear remarkable – until you realise what they’ve done. Although the data is presented as “this year” in fact the cut-off date is July 2nd. That is significant because it is just before the Delta surge got going. This means the data all comes from the Alpha surge, when almost no-one was vaccinated and tens of thousands of Covid deaths were reported, and from the quiet spring and early summer when many were vaccinated but almost no-one died (see chart below).

July’s Age-Standardised Mortality Rate Was Equal to the Five-Year Average

The ONS announced on Monday that there were 40,467 deaths registered in England in July, which is 4.8% more than in June, and 7.6% more than the five-year average. In fact, the number of deaths registered in England was above the five-year average in all four weeks of last month.

These increases make sense, given that there has been a small uptick in COVID-19 deaths associated with the ‘Delta wave’. Although COVID-19 was only the ninth leading cause of death in July, deaths from the first eight causes were all below their five-year averages.

However, because the English population is ageing, the absolute number of people at risk of dying each year is going up. You’d therefore expect to see a greater number of deaths each year, even without a pandemic. What’s more, people who die from COVID-19 tend to be slightly older than those dying of other causes, so the average COVID-19 death is associated with fewer life-years lost.

For these reasons, it’s more informative to track age-adjusted measures of mortality. In July, the age-standardised mortality rate was only 1.3% higher than in May, and was approximately equal to the five-year average. (The exact figure was marginally higher, but the percentage difference was only 0.4%.)

This chart from the ONS shows the age-standardised mortality rate for the first seven months of the year, each year, going back to 2001:

Although 2021’s figure was higher than the figure for 2019, it was 3.6% lower than the figure for 2015 and 2.0% lower than the figure for 2018. This means that – despite higher-than-expected mortality in the winter – the overall level of mortality in the first seven months of 2021 was still lower than three years before.

As a matter of fact, the age-standardised rate from January through July was only 0.8% higher than the five-year average. Another month without many excess deaths and 2021 will officially be an ‘average year’ for English mortality.

The Implausible Findings of the Latest Oxford Vaccine Effectiveness Study

Oxford University released a new study on vaccine effectiveness this week based on the ONS Infection Survey. Its headline finding was that, for the period dominated by the Delta variant, the AstraZeneca jab declined from 97% vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic infection to 71% and Pfizer’s declined from 97% to 84%. The researchers note that vaccine effectiveness (VE) appears to wane with time, putting this at 7% per month in the case of AstraZeneca and 22% per month in the case of Pfizer.

One odd thing about these results is that the 97% initial VE for AstraZeneca is very high compared to other estimates, including the vaccine trial which found it to be just 70.4%.

Here are their vaccine effectiveness results in full.

A second oddity is that for the all-infection (positive test) findings, the researchers found Pfizer VE was just 78% in the Alpha period, well below the usual figure – such as that from a major Israeli study, which put it at 92%. But then the researchers found it rose to 80% in the Delta period. A third oddity is that AstraZeneca VE was 71% in the 13 days after the second dose, up from 46% after the first dose even though that’s before the second dose is supposed to kick in. Yet once it is supposed to kick in, after 14 days, VE drops to 67%. These are strange results indeed.

Another perplexing aspect is that the VE estimates against Delta in this study, while (mostly) lower than against Alpha, are much higher than those indicated by recent data from Israel and the U.K., which have included 39% and 17%.

These various oddities piqued my suspicions, so I had a look at the raw data (shown below).

Covid Vaccine Hesitancy Rates Among Young Brits Continue to Fall, According to ONS Data

The percentage of young Brits aged 18 to 21 hesitant about getting vaccinated fell to 5% just before ‘Freedom Day’, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), no doubt at least in part due to constant pressuring from the Government and universities. Sky News has the story.

The ONS survey looked at attitudes during the period from June 23rd to July 18th – a day before most Covid restrictions were lifted in England.

For 16 and 17 year-olds – who are now able to get a jab following last week’s announcement to extend the roll-out to that age group – hesitancy has decreased from 14% to 11%.

Among those aged 18 to 21, hesitancy around jabs went down to 5% from 9%, and dropped slightly for 22 to 25 year-olds from 10% to 9%. …

For the ONS survey, vaccine hesitancy refers to adults who have chosen not to be vaccinated, report being very or fairly unlikely to have a vaccine if offered, responded “neither likely nor unlikely”, “don’t know” or “prefer not to say” when asked how likely they would be to get a jab if offered.

The ONS data involved 15,433 people aged 16 and above in England, Scotland and Wales.

Overall, more than nine in 10 adults (96%) reported positive sentiment towards coronavirus vaccines while 4% reported hesitancy – figures unchanged from the previous findings which covered May 26th to June 20th.

The rate of vaccine hesitancy has fallen in most areas of the U.K., the ONS said.

Worth reading in full.

Positive Covid Tests Drop Week-on-Week for 10th Day in a Row

Positive Covid tests fell again today, both compared to yesterday and compared to last Saturday, making it the tenth day in a row reported infections have dropped week-on-week. MailOnline has more.

Covid cases have fallen week-on-week for the tenth day in a row, in another sign of hope as the pandemic appears to be shrinking — but experts warn the drop off could be down to less [sic] people getting tests.  

Department of Health bosses posted 26,144 infections today, down 17.8% on last Saturday’s figure of 31,795.

And the number of people dying with the virus has fallen to 71. The number of victims decreased 17.4% from 86 last Saturday.

The baffled Government scientists, whose gloomy predictions continue not to materialise, have now come up with another reason why positive test reports might be dropping: people are avoiding being tested because they don’t want to self-isolate.

I suppose some will be, with holidays approaching. But the ONS breakdown by age also suggests there’s a difference in the infection rate between people under 16 and over 16, with the latter having peaked while the former had not as of July 24th. That in itself is a bit confusing, as children under 16 don’t live on their own, but it does suggest that some of the drop in positive tests reported by PHE might be because parents have stopped testing their children.

Confusion Over Whether Cases Are Rising or Falling

According to MailOnline, daily Covid cases in the U.K. fell for the ninth consecutive day in a row today.

Britain’s daily covid cases fell again today for the ninth day in a row, amid mounting confusion over true state of the third wave.

Department of Health bosses posted 29,622 cases – down 18.6% on last week.

In another glimmer of hope, hospitalisations (927) and deaths (68) appear to be slowing down – with both measures up just 6% on last Friday.

However, it cannot be true that daily cases have fallen for the ninth day in a row since they stood at below 25,000 on July 26th and now stand at 29,622. It appears that MailOnline means that this is the ninth day in a row in which the daily toll is less than it was exactly one week before.

Meanwhile, yesterday’s Guardian reported that daily cases had gone up for the second day in a row:

The daily number of Covid cases reported in the U.K. has risen for the second day in a row, although experts have cautioned against drawing premature conclusions from the fluctuations.

On Thursday, 31,117 cases were reported in the UK, up from 27,734 the day before, which marked the first rise in cases since July 20th.

To further complicate matters, the ONS published its weekly infection survey today and reported that the percentage of the population testing positive has increased slightly in England, Wales and Northern Ireland compared to the previous week, although it’s fallen in Scotland:

Hospitalisations and Deaths Can “Increase” Simply Due to Higher Transmission

The Telegraph reported on Monday that more than half of patients counted in the COVID hospitalisation numbers did not test positive until they were admitted. (Everyone must take a COVID test before entering a hospital in England.) Only 44% tested positive prior to being admitted.

The data seen by The Telegraph correspond to 22nd July. On that date, 827 “COVID-19 patients” were admitted to hospital, according to the Government’s coronavirus dashboard. However, the true number of people hospitalised because of COVID-19 may be far lower.

Crucially, the hospitalisations numbers do not exclude people who were admitted for non-COVID reasons (say, a broken leg) but simply happened to test positive upon admission.

Given that tests are now widely available, it seems likely that someone who had symptoms resembling those of COVID-19 would take one before going to hospital. Consequently, many of those who only test positive upon arrival may be suffering from other ailments. The true number of “COVID-19 patients” admitted to hospital last Thursday could be as low as 363 (i.e., 44% of 827).

The Telegraph story highlights an important point, which lockdown sceptics have made over and over again during the pandemic. Testing positive on a PCR or lateral flow test is not the same thing as having the disease COVID-19. (It would be more accurate to describe a positive test result as “an instance of SARS-Cov-2”.)

One important implication is that the number of hospitalisations and deaths – indicators that supposedly capture the impact of the pandemic on public health – can increase simply due to higher transmission.

According to the ONS’s Coronavirus Infection Survey, the percentage of people in England infected with the virus went from 0.22% in the week ending 19th June to 1.36% in the week ending 17th July – an increase of 1.1 percentage points.

In July of 2019, there were 1.3 million inpatients admissions, or 42,000 per day. If the percentage of inpatients testing positive rose by 1.1 percentage points due to a general increase in transmission, that would yield an additional 462 “COVID-19 patients” by the end of the month.

Now this calculation isn’t an exact representation of what’s going on at the moment. We know that infections are concentrated among people in their 20s and 30s, who are unlikely to be hospitalised for any reason. But it illustrates the point that even the hospitalisation numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt. 

As I’ve noted many times, the only truly reliable indicator of the pandemic’s impact is excess mortality. And going by that measure, the pandemic has been over since March.  

Age-Standardised Mortality Rate Comes in Below Five-Year Average for *Fourth* Consecutive Month

The ONS announced on Friday that there were 38,611 deaths registered in England in June, which is 9.1% more than in May, and 0.8% more than the five-year average. However, the increase is relative to an exceptionally low value the month before. What about the age-standardised mortality rate (which is the best overall measure)?

In June, the age-standardised mortality rate was 12.5% higher than in May, but was still 6.1% lower than the five-year average. It was also the second-lowest figure on record for that month. (The only lower figure was observed in June of 2019.)

This means that England’s age-standardised mortality rate has been below the five-year average for four consecutive months. In other words, we’ve had four months in a row of “negative excess mortality”.

This chart from the ONS shows the age-standardised mortality rate for the first six months of the year, each year, going back to 2001:

Although 2021’s figure was higher than the figure for 2019, it was 3.6% lower than the figure for 2015 and 2.4% lower than the figure for 2018. This means that – despite higher-than-expected mortality in the winter – the overall level of mortality in the first half of 2021 was actually lower than three years before.

The past four months have “cancelled out” more than 85% of the age-adjusted excess mortality observed in January and February. Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 was not among the leading causes of death in June. All in all, the first half of 2021 has been pretty normal with respect to the average level of mortality.

Since the 8th of March, There Have Been 9,484 *Fewer* Deaths Than Normal

Today the ONS announced that there were 8,808 deaths in England and Wales in the week ending 2nd July 2021. This is 118 more than the previous week, but still 5.2% below the five-year average. Here’s the chart from the ONS:

Deaths in England and Wales have now been below the five-year average for 14 of the past 17 weeks. Over that time, there were 9,484 fewer deaths than you’d expect based on the average of the last five years. And recall that, due to population ageing, the five-year average understates the expected number of deaths. Hence the true level of “negative excess mortality” is even greater.

The number of deaths registered in the week ending July 2nd was below the five-year average in seven out of nine English regions. (Only the North East and North West saw positive excess deaths.) Compared to the five-year average, weekly deaths were 10.7% lower in the East of England, and a remarkable 12.1% lower in the South East.

The fact that “negative excess mortality” has now persisted for three consecutive months supports the hypothesis that deaths were “brought forward” by the pandemic.

It’s been widely noted that the link between cases and deaths has weakened substantially in recent weeks, thanks to the build up of population immunity. Although the number of daily infections has surpassed 20,000, the number of daily deaths remains in the low double digits. However, the situation is actually even more positive: measured by excess deaths, the pandemic hasn’t taken any lives since early March.