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  • Writer's pictureRichard Cree

I’m sure I’ve had it, you know…

Updated: May 10, 2020

Thursday 7th May 2020

Figures for 6th May

UK COVID Deaths 649 / Total 30,076

James Cook Hospital – Total COVID deaths – 199

Yesterday the UK passed a grim milestone and recorded 30,000 deaths due to the virus. This death rate places us above any other country in Europe and second only to the USA. Now comparing a different nation’s ‘score’ is difficult as different nations count different things. Apples and pears if you like. Some only count confirmed deaths, some include suspected. Some nations include care home figures or deaths at home whilst others don’t. Other countries have a higher proportion of elderly and/or unhealthy residents. Direct comparison is very difficult and one shouldn’t get too hung up on our position in the league table.

However, thirty thousand deaths is an unsettlingly large number, any which way you look at it. It's only when you stop to try and imagine the tragedy that accompanies each one of these that you start to see more than a statistic.

Another virtual pub night tonight. Everyone seems relieved that the number of virus cases has fallen along with the death rate. I do sense an air of complacency that wasn’t there before. This goes along with the fact that there appear to be significantly more cars and people around and about when compared to last week. Certainly Fergus is convinced that the plans for Lockdown 2.0 that are to be announced on Sunday will free him from his near house-arrest next week.

The Government have been warning everyone today not to expect anything other than ‘modest’ changes to the current situation. This will understandably lead to frustration on many peoples part. One of the things I frequently hear are people recalling that they were unwell with a viral illness back in late February or early March and they suspect that it is was coronavirus. Some believe that many more people have been infected than we are led to believe and that the lockdown is an over-reaction to a minimal threat.

It’s difficult to argue that all of the above could be possible, what’s not clear is whether it’s probable. Certainly the virus was present in populations around the world earlier than initially thought. A French patient has been reported to have contracted the virus as early as December.

So how many people in the population have been infected? The only way to know is through antibody testing. The test will detect antibodies to coronavirus, proving that you have had the disease and recovered. There are plans to roll out home testing for the UK population but there are concerns that the home kits are not reliable. Laboratory testing is more accurate and has been used in a number of population studies to determine the rate of infection.

The largest of these was carried out recently in the Czech Republic. It looked at 26,549 patients in 4 geographic areas and discovered only 107 positive cases. In the worst affected areas, no more than 4-5% of the population has been infected.

Sixteen other smaller studies conducted across Europe have shown an average of 0.2-3% of people tested had been infected.

Interestingly, in the Czech study, the number of people infected by the virus but not showing any symptoms was estimated at between 27 and 38%. The other European studies have estimated this number at somewhere between 20 and 50%.

So, it would appear that not as many of us have been infected as some might suppose. The UK’s lockdown was not as early as that in the Czech Republic so our infection rate may be higher. Until the UK conducts extensive antibody testing we won’t know.

It does add weight to the Government’s cautious approach. Over 90% of the population may not have not been infected yet and of those, many will be vulnerable and at risk of serious illness or worse.

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