Expert says UK can be comforted with Covid-19 death rate despite infections rise

An expert claims the UK can take heart that coronavirus death rates are still low even as infections climb.

There are fears a second wave of Covid-19 is on the horizon, with local lockdowns being implemented in many parts of northern England as 3,395 new cases were announced on Thursday.

Prof Mike Tildesley, an expert in mathematical modelling of infectious disease, said: "The majority of testing used to be done in hospitals, and now there is a lot more testing in the community, healthier people with milder symptoms who probably won't need hospital treatment.

"That explains the steep rise in infections. We have to remember that 3,000 cases a day today is not the same as 3,000 a day back in April, because we are doing so much more testing.

Even with 4,000 new cases a day, it's still a long way off the situation in March and April, when an estimated 100,000 were falling ill.

In Bolton, Greater Manchester – the worst-hit area of the country – there are only two coronavirus patients in hospital, while across all 18 areas in some form of lockdown just 141 people are hospitalised.

Prof Tildesley also warned against reading too much into Britain's infection rate graph, or international comparisons.

He said: "It’s quite dangerous to compare one country to another in terms of their cases curves because it very much depends on how much testing you are doing.”

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The younger healthy people behind the rise in infections could go on to infect elderly, vulnerable relatives, leading to a rise in hospitalisations and deaths, but it is not inevitable, said Prof Tidlesley.

He added: "There’s some evidence of this in Spain. For a long time deaths remained low, but they’ve started to climb in the last few weeks. So we need to be cautious and keep monitoring that.

“But if deaths don’t rise, it will be because healthier people are getting infected and we are better at protecting the vulnerable.”

There is also the possibility that the virus isn’t as deadly.

Prof Tildesley said: “We know in the longer term viruses can mutate, and when they do they tend to mutate to milder forms, because it’s not beneficial for the virus to kill its host.

“That, and the fact better treatments are available for hospitalised patients, may be helping reduce the death rate.”

Dr Christina Pagel, a professor of clinical operational research at University College London, and part of the independent Sage group, is less optimistic.

She said: “It takes a week of you having coronavirus symptoms before it gets bad enough to go to hospital, and two or three weeks before you die, so there’s a lag between infection and death. We won’t see deaths going up for some weeks.

“It’s not enough to just protect the elderly. The median age of people currently in hospital with Covid in Birmingham and Manchester is between 45 and 55. It’s the parents of the young people who are getting infected.”

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