There are nine kinds of “lockdown” measures against the COVID-19 virus, which have been implemented in many countries of the world. They are: school closures, workplace closures, public events cancellation, restrictions on gatherings, public transport closures, stay-at-home restrictions, national travel restrictions, international travel restrictions and face covering mandates. What the chart shows is an average of an average. It is the average, over the nine measures, of the proportion of days over the course of the COVID epidemic since January 2020, that there has been in place a full restriction. And the chart shows this average for 14 countries in Western Europe, including the UK.
By a full restriction, I mean: all schools closed, all “non-essential” workplaces closed, all public events cancelled, gatherings restricted to 10 people or less, public transport closed, forced stay at home with only minimal exceptions, mandatory restrictions in place on internal travel, border closure, or face covering required at all times when outside the home. These are the restrictions which the Blavatnik School of Government, based at Oxford University, regard as constituting 100% lockdown in their respective spheres. And who am I to disagree with them – since I’m choosing to use their data?
Look at those Irish go! Or not, of course. An average of almost three out of nine fundamental freedoms totally denied them, over the course of more than a year? And the UK isn’t much less bad.
I’ve been looking, for a few weeks now, for hard evidence that the COVID vaccines being rolled out in various countries are having an effect, or not as the case may be. I think there is probably enough data now to do at least a preliminary assessment. So, here goes.
The data I used for this report, both from Our World in Data and the Blavatnik School of Government, was taken on April 1st, and ran up to March 31st.
In recent weeks, I have been developing the “magic spreadsheets” which help me to follow the statistics of the COVID epidemic, with the aim of significantly increasing the number of countries I am able to look at. This is the first report based on the new technology. It covers the whole of Europe, a total of 46 countries divided into four groups. Here are the groups:
Rest of Western Europe
Eastern Europe (North)
Eastern Europe (South)
Bosnia and Herzegovina
I’ll end this essay with an assessment of the UK’s performance against the virus to date. I think it’s fair to say that to call my assessment “scathing” would be an understatement.
Until now, all the reports I have done on the COVID-19 virus have been at a national and international level, comparing different countries’ performances against the virus. Today, I’m going to focus on new COVID cases reported over the past few months. And, particularly, on a small swathe of South-East England around my home.
This is an update to my paper of December 3rd on tracking the COVID-19 epidemic in fourteen Western European countries. It uses the data up to and including December 31st 2020. The data sources are the same as before: Our World in Data and the Blavatnik School of Government, both at Oxford University.
The main news this month, apart from seemingly never-ending lockdowns and the ghost of Christmas passed, has been the new, supposedly more easily transmissible strain of the virus, discovered in the UK. Initially, I was a bit skeptical. But as you can see in the graph at the top, the UK (pink line) does indeed have a climbing trend in new daily cases, which over the whole of December is very different from the trends in the other countries. So, I think we can fairly say that there is indeed a new, more transmissible strain, in the UK and perhaps some other countries.
A month ago, I compared the histories of the COVID-19 epidemic in fourteen Western European countries. At that point, the “second wave” of the virus, which had been building throughout the region for three or four months, was giving governments an excuse to start re-introducing lockdowns. So, I said that I would review the situation in a month or so. That month has now elapsed, so here’s the review. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll now have enough data to form some idea of which lockdown measures have been effective, and which haven’t.
In this article I’ll compare the history to date of the COVID-19 epidemic in fourteen European countries, including the UK. I chose the countries with an aim of making them representative of Western Europe as a whole. I excluded island countries other than the UK and Ireland; and I excluded very small countries such as San Marino, Andorra, Liechtenstein and Monaco. Here are the countries I picked, in alphabetical order:
In hindsight, I might perhaps have added Norway as well; but fourteen should be enough.
The COVID data I used came from Our World in Data at https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus-data, and runs up to October 31st. But many of the graphs I show will stop short of that date. For example, any graph which requires (centred) weekly averages in its calculation cannot go further than October 28th, because to calculate the centred weekly average for October 29th would require data for November 1st.
In the last few days, the article I originally planned has been overtaken by political events, as posturing European governments indulge in a game of “COVID copycat” (https://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-lockdown-returns-to-france-and-germany-heres-what-you-need-to-know-12117280). Ireland has been back in lockdown since about October 21st. The UK will, in effect, be going back into full lockdown from November 5th. Belgium and Germany, will be doing the same from the 2nd, and France is already there. The Netherlands is already in partial lockdown. Austria, Portugal, Italy and Spain, too, are locking down further; and Denmark has already done so, if relatively lightly. Switzerland already has “a range of new COVID measures” – which include making people wear masks outside! Even Sweden is now implementing local lockdowns. As far as I can tell, only Luxembourg has not yet followed the copycat trend; and even there, there is talk of a “lockdown lite.”
It’s particularly exasperating that the UK has decided to go the national lockdown route. A few weeks ago, they brought in a “tiered lockdown” system, in which individual areas could be put under restrictions appropriate to the situation in their particular area, while leaving people in less badly affected areas under far lighter restrictions. This seemed to me a very sensible way to go. After all, epidemic control is, by the nature of epidemics, a local matter. And it doesn’t make sense to confine people in Cornwall, say, to their homes because of a serious situation in Leeds, or even in Bristol. Moreover, slightly different rules in different areas would have created an opportunity to collect hard data on what works and what doesn’t.
Johnson and co could perfectly well have used the tiered system to implement full lockdowns in just those places that needed them. But instead of using common sense and adding a “tier four” to the new system, they have caved in to extremists like the SAGE committee, that seem to want to lock people down for the sake of locking people down. Now we are in danger of a situation, where even those in relatively unaffected parts of the country are likely to be forced into a period of lockdown every few months or even every few weeks. That may make the cases figures look better; but in terms of beating the virus, it’s a no-no. For, absent a vaccine, we are going to have to get to the herd immunity threshold. But to lock down people in areas where there are relatively few cases will mean it takes longer – perhaps, years longer – to get there, and beat the virus. Indeed, someone with a nasty agenda, looking to prolong the agony caused by the virus and to prevent the economy ever fully recovering, would find this strategy very attractive.