No10's publicly-available coronavirus statistics are 'disparate', top scientists warn

3 weeks ago 5

Number 10's publicly-available coronavirus statistics are 'disparate' and mask the true scale of England's second wave, top scientists have warned.

Researchers from University College London warned there are 'significant gaps in data quality, consistency and availability' which make tracking the virus' trajectory near-impossible.

They slammed ministers for cherry-picking figures — which are 'often from disparate sources and are not linked together' — and parading them at press conferences to justify tightening or loosening lockdown restrictions.

The team at UCL have now created their own Covid-19 dashboard, which tracks the virus in real time, to rival the Government's version, where the best available data is often two weeks old.

They hope the public dashboard will make data more transparent and boost adherence to lockdowns in hotspot areas. Currently, the Government's out-of-date data has left residents confused about why they are being forced to live under economically-crippling and socially-restrictive measures.

Creators of the new dashboard said that, while developing the web tool, they found that NHS Test and Trace was performing even poorer than official statistics indicate. They also criticised Downing Street for not having routine data on how well requests for 14-day isolation are adhered to.

Asked whether she believed the Government was purposefully concealing certain data to mask its shortcomings, lead researcher Professor Christina Pagel said: 'The fact you're asking that question just shows the Government has a big job to do to get people's trust back.' 

Experts from University College London have created their own Covid-19 dashboard, which tracks the virus in real time, to rival the Government's version, where the best available data is often two weeks old

It breaks down estimated cases being picked up by the Government's coronavirus testing programme every week, as well as the true number of infections, including people who are asymptomatic and were not swabbed

The dashboard updates in real-time to give the public a clearer picture of the current trajectory of the coronavirus


Britain today recorded 367 more Covid-19 victims in the highest daily death toll since the end of May as a senior health official warned the number of fatalities will continue to rise 'for some time'.

Despite the grisly death figures, Government statistics also offer hope the outbreak could finally be tailing off, with another 22,885 infections today — up just 7 per cent in a week. Coronavirus cases were doubling every week in September, which sparked fears the UK had sleep-walked into a second wave following a lull in transmission.

Infections are still a way off levels seen during the worst stage of the pandemic in March and April, when at least 100,000 Britons were catching the life-threatening illness every day. And top experts warn cases are still growing, even though data shows they are slowing down.

For comparison, 241 Covid-19 deaths and 21,331 infections were recorded last Tuesday, as well as 102 deaths and 20,890 cases yesterday. But fatality counts on Mondays are always lower than usual because of a recording lag at the weekend, meaning today's toll is likely to be slightly inflated.

Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England, today warned the rising death toll from Covid-19 was likely to 'continue for some time' because of the spike in cases. It can take infected patients several weeks to fall severely ill, meaning the consequences of Britain's spiralling outbreak are only just starting to be seen.

Britain's official coronavirus death toll today topped 45,000, with the daily number of fatalities being the highest since May 27, when 422 victims were registered. It means 200 Britons are now succumbing to the life-threatening illness every day, on average.

It comes as separate data today revealed the number of Brits dying from Covid-19 rose by more than 50 per cent in seven days. Office for National Statistics figures showed 761 Britons fell victim to the disease in the week ending October 16, the most recent recording period, up from 474 the week before.

But the number of deaths is still a far-cry away from the peak of the pandemic during the spring, when more than 9,400 patients died in the worst week. And to bring the figures into perspective, Covid-19 was only responsible for one in 16 total deaths in the UK in the most recent week, and flu and pneumonia killed twice as many people.

And despite warnings that the death toll will continue to soar, a raft of statistics have suggested Britain's outbreak has already started to slow down thanks to tighter restrictions on freedoms nationally and the three-tier lockdown system in hotspots. It suggests fatalities could start to tail off in the coming weeks.

Professor Pagel added: 'Increasing volumes of data are being shown in the media and in government press conferences as a basis for local tightening of restrictions. 

'However, these data are often from disparate sources, and are not linked together to give a more complete picture of how we are doing. 

'This was the motivation behind our dashboard development. We wish to contribute to the public understanding of Covid-19's spread, and support policymakers.'

The new dashboard, which can be accessed by the public here, was developed by UCL research spin-off i-sense.

Its creators said they developed the system after struggling to find 'quality, consistent and reliable data needed to manage the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts'.

The COVID Response Evaluation Dashboard, or COVID RED, collates and presents data from the Office of National Statistics, Public Health England, and the NHS.

It breaks down the data into five categories; Find, Test, Track, Isolate and Support for those asked to Isolate (FTTIS). 

It presents indicators of England's performance under each of these headings, and identifies areas where more data are needed. 

In developing the dashboard, researchers found significant gaps in data quality and availability. 

Placed in the context of the total number of estimated infections, the proportion of cases whose contacts are asked to isolate is smaller than official data indicates.

The team estimate just 39 per cent of all positive cases were actually picked up in the most recent week, 31 per cent were reached by contact tracers and 16 per cent of their close contacts were advised to isolate. 

By comparison Number 10's official Test and Trace report would have you believe 80 per cent of infected people had been reached by tracers and 60 per cent of contacts were reached. 

This is because it does not factor in all of the cases who were never tested - including asymptomatic people and those who couldn't access a swab because of shortages.

The Government's scientific experts have warned that the contact tracing system can only work effectively if at least 80 per cent of close contacts are actually tracked down and to quarantine for 14 days.

Furthermore, no routine data are collected on how well requests for 14-day isolation are adhered to, the UCL researchers warned.

This makes it impossible to currently assess how effective NHS Test and Trace is in reducing Covid-19 transmission. 

The researchers note that gaps in information regarding follow up of confirmed Covid-19 cases is an issue. At present, the number of people isolating with symptoms in England is unknown, and there is a lack of data on those who need or are receiving any kind of support.

Furthermore, the best available data for some areas of the dashboard is up to two weeks old.

The team emphasised the need for real-time information to be prioritised to inform and support the necessary responses, including regional or local lockdowns. 

COVID RED co-developer Professor Deenan Pillay, an infectious disease expert at UCL, added: 'Coronavirus case numbers are doubling every two weeks at the moment, and access to real-time data will be essential during this time to monitor 'hot-spots' of infection as we head into winter so that local health authorities can better control community spread.

'Indeed, an effective local public health approach is key to ensuring we avoid the need for regular lockdowns. 

'Track, trace, isolate is a key part of monitoring the effectiveness of social distancing measures, and to ensure infections remain low once we come out of current and future restrictions.' 

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