Business Lockdowns: Something Doesn't Add Up With The Covid Numbers
The Devastation To Business From Lockdown May Not Be Justified
On Saturday, NSW Health gave advice to the NSW Premier that the potential for an uncontrolled spread of Covid 19 in Greater Sydney was great, and business lockdowns were put into place. Reading twitter, many also believe that Gladys Berejiklian left it too late to lockdown Greater Sydney, the Central Coast, the Blue Mountains and Shellharbour. The decision has been applauded by many, and with the goal to save lives, who would want to argue against this?
I am not an epidemiologist, nor health expert. I like numbers. Numbers, especially when there are statistically significant numbers, can be trusted given a small margin of error. The decision to lock down 1000s of small and medium businesses, businesses that are only just recovering from the ravages of last year is a cruel one. The devastation to business owners’ dreams, vision, and their ability to do good for society could be huge. I have many friends in the travel industry. An industry that has, for the past year and a half, had virtually no income or even prospect of one. That is a tragedy. I can admit, on Saturday, and certainly since, I have had a feeling of helplessness. This was especially heightened in the days since, when our premier and Prime Minister states that lockdowns will be a fact of life until we get to near full vaccination. This, in theory, means this could be years away, if ever. Businesses need certainty or as good as in order to have the confidence to invest. Invest in people, jobs, capital equipment. The damage to the economy from this lack of confidence alone could last generations.
Let's look at the numbers
As a numbers man, something is really bugging me about this 80% figure and the relative risk of death from Covid. Let’s dissect the numbers. I will use NSW Health numbers for my analysis. According to NSW Health, since January 2021 and up until today, there have been 5609 Covid cases in NSW. There has also been 6.85 million tests – a positivity rate of 0.08%. From this, 12% of the 0.018% have been hospitalised, and a death rate of 0.963% of the 0.018%. 54 deaths have so far been recorded. This is illustrated below:
Source: NSW Health 2021
We have also seen that Covid affects different age groups and those with comorbidities differently. Death rates across the age groups:
Source: Australian Commonwealth Government 2021
So, around 90% of all Covid deaths are in the 70 + age group. It is reasonable to assume, that if we do nothing, that another 54 people will die if we left the virus to run around. What we did see though, was almost 2 months of lockdowns last year, thus you could argue that the lockdowns muted the number of deaths. I’d argue that this is a pretty lazy argument. For instance, if a disease is going to adversely affect particular age groups, then that age group would more likely than not, decide to self isolate. That is a pretty reasonable assumption and one we have seen borne out in other areas of the world. The human instinct to protect oneself from imminent danger is incontrovertible. We did have breakouts in Aged care facilities, and yes, you’d be hard pressed to argue the flight mechanism would be able to be kicked in there.
A play around with the numbers
Now, move forward 18 months. We have just gone into lockdown for a 100 odd cases. 1 person in ICU and a few more in hospital. We also have started, albeit slowly, in rolling out the Covid vaccine. This is where my love of numbers and models comes in. Let’s use the numbers we’ve already established and start to model what needs to happen to move us to a return to normal. Gladys has said that 80% of the population needs to be vaccinated. The numbers we have seen and make up of effect of covid by age tells us instantly, that is not going to be necessary. Let us also assume, as the numbers from around the world suggest this, that if you are double vaccinated, the potential for hospitalisations or death is virtually zero in much of the population. We shall assume this. That a double vaccination = 0% chance of death.
So if we take the 80+ group as fully vaccinated, and 80% of all over 60’s – then we have locked down the economy to save 3 lives if the same numbers of covid are seen in this set of events. Now losing any life is horrible, but we accept a certain amount of deaths from the seasonal flu each year as acceptable. As a side note, there were 316 deaths from flu in NSW in 2019 (NSW Government Health) We did not lock down the economy for 316 deaths, why are we for the potential of 3? Even if you take a vaccination rate of 50% for all over 50s, the likely deaths are 27. Again, a long way short of the normal flu deaths in NSW in 2019
The NSW population is made up of the following groups:
So, it may be pointless vaccinating 80% of 0-49 year olds to make a mark on the hospitalisations and deaths in NSW. Rather, to really make a difference, vaccinating 40% of all over 40, 60% of those between 50 and 59, 80% of 60-69 and 100% of the 70+ age group reduces deaths to just 1.
A total % of vaccinations of the whole population of just 32.66%. That figure, and targeted vaccinations would give us almost zero deaths. And we are eliminating many 100s if not 1000s of businesses for this. You could argue that by vaccinating 80% of the population would mean a herd immunity, but again, on these figures, why bother with this goal, so long as you systematically vaccinate the 50+ age group as people reach those ages.
We learned earlier, that 316 people succumbed to influenza in 2019. I’ve changed the model to reflect no vaccinations, and to what level of infection we would need to virtually mimic the number of flue deaths. That figure is 32,500 infections. No where near the figure we have today and have locked down for. Now, I have assumed that 50% of all over 70s are vaccinated. The number of infections to match the flu death rates would need to be 60,000 infections.
Summing It Up
I started this by saying I was not an epidemiologist, nor health expert. I could certainly be missing something rather important, and probably am – ie the assumption of zero likelihood of death I vaccinated over a certain age. The analysis has taken about 2 hours to complete. With the resources available in Government, surely their modelling tells them something similar? If it does, then why the lockdowns. It rather looks a political move rather than “THE Health” or “THE Chief Medical Officer’s” advice. No matter how wrong the model is, there needs to be greater transparency in what are the metrics these business lockdown decisions are made on. What are the acceptable levels of deaths? What is the roadmap for businesses never to having to worry about business lockdowns again. 80% vaccination rate looks to be pie in the sky and lazy.