Sample overview provided to subscribers, from 5th July 2021

This week has seen an acceleration in the rate of growth of the epidemic, and a significant change in government policy, which we will attempt to explain.

Firstly, the new case rate grew by 72% last week, as compared with 50% in the previous week and 32% in the week before that. This increasing rate of exponential growth, in a situation where there is a high level of vaccination, can perhaps be explained by an increasing spread in schools and universities, and lower levels of precautions being taken in public places. The new case rate has risen to above the peak autumn 2020 levels. Hospital admissions, were 31% higher than in the previous week, as compared with an increase of 10% in the week before that, and the new case rate in England was 251 cases per 100,000 as compared with 146 in the week to 26th June, and 97 in the week before that. The growth of the epidemic in the unvaccinated part of the population is clearly out of control.

However, the effect of the vaccinations has meant that this week there were only 225 admissions to hospital, as compared with 1400 in the corresponding week in the autumn. Since almost all old people have been vaccinated, now only 1 in 1000 infections results in a death, as compared with 1 in 60 in the autumn. Evidence is emerging that a single dose of the vaccine reduces the chance of needing hospital treatment by 75%, more than originally thought, and that two doses are more than 90% effective.

The government, in a situation where it cannot hold the epidemic without imposing another set of very tight restrictions, has decided to let the epidemic run. It has been estimated that to achieve herd immunity with the delta variant, 85% of the population will need to be double-vaccinated or have had the virus. At present, out of an England population of 56.2m, 28.2m (50%) have been double-vaccinated, 4.2m (7%) are known to have had the disease, 1.7m (3%) have had it without symptoms, and 9.7m (17%) have some protection through one jab. This totals to 43.8m protected, 78% of the total, and 4.0m short of the 85% level needed to achieve stability. The number of first jabs last week was 0.82m, and the number of new cases was 0.14m, so at this rate it will take us more than 4 weeks to reach a stable position.

However, this policy comes at a cost of about 1.5m to 2.0m more cases before we achieve stability, resulting in between 1,500 to 2,500 additional deaths. This needs to be balanced against the effects of a severe lockdown, which could well be greater.

In more detail:

  1. This week there were only three local authorities where the new case rate per 100,000 has reduced. The new case rate increased by 37% in the North West, but the increase was more than 60% in London, and more than 70% in all other regions. A hot spot has developed in the North East. The rate in South Tyneside, at 788 per 100,000, was the highest in England and North Tyneside, Newcastle upon Tyne, Gateshead and Sunderland all had rates over 640 per 100,000.
  2. All areas are now affected. This week there was only one local authority with a case rate of less than 40 per week, as compared with 153 three weeks ago.
  3. The proportion vaccinated is improving only slowly. In the last week only 0.82m first doses were administered, and 0.92m second doses.
  4. The weekly average (in the week to 30th June) of the daily number of Covid hospital admissions from the community increased by 31% to 225, as compared with 171 the previous week. There were 1,611 people in hospital with coronavirus in England on 2nd July, 26% more than the previous week.
  5. It continues to be likely that international holidays will be restricted this summer, since Britain will appear on other countries’ “red” lists.
  6. The published value of R for England is quoted as being in a range of 1.1 to 1.3, but this assessed reduction is somewhat out of date.
  7. We estimate that about 1 in 135 people in England had the virus in the week to 3rd July, as compared with 1 in 230 in the previous week.

John Hargreaves
5th July 2021

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