Coronavirus: where will Canterbury be in two weeks?

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Are we going to follow Italy into having thousands of Coronavirus cases? And how will we deal with it in Kent?

We probably will not have long to find out. The statistics coming from the UK and Italian Health departments show that we are about 14 days behind in terms of total numbers of cases. But the growth rate appears to be slightly faster here than in Italy. So we should be braced for some difficult days ahead. The UK population (66 million) is somewhat larger than Italy’s (61 million) but they are roughly comparable.

If we did follow Italy we would top 7,000 cases by Monday, March 23. That would be a week before the clocks go forward for British summertime. Over 1,000 people would have caught the virus in the South East*. And if we were like the Italians, then about 80 of the people infected in the South East would have recovered. Regarding the numbers of people infected in Kent, the calculator points to about 100 — but that is a pointer not a prediction. That could well mean that we had a few cases in our constituency (but it is unwise to make forecasts at this level).

It is not possible to make the morbid comparison between Italy and the UK yet on deaths. We have had so few (three) that we cannot really use that low number as a base for calculations.

There are statistics and there are feelings. And they are both useful measures. Canterbury seems to be responding with less fear than other places in the South East. Stockpiling is a measure of fear and panic. Loo paper, for instance, ran out in parts of Bristol, Weybridge and Esher (according to my network of old school friends) over last weekend. But we still had stocks in Wilko, Marks & Spencer and Tesco (Whitefriars), according to my researches.

How are feelings changing in Italy? I speak regularly to friends in a town in Lombardy which is now in the ‘zona rossa’ and cordoned off. Their attitudes have moved much closer to concern over the last two weeks. At the start, well-informed friends were both saying that the government’s response seemed over the top. Now the prevailing tone is more anxious. One friend believes that the virus is both more contagious and more dangerous than it originally seemed. He has heard reports of young, healthy people being treated in Intensive Care.

One of the issues in cases of national struggle — such as wars, addiction and pestilence — is that governments do not usually give all the information out that would help the population make good personal decisions. If it did then people would be far less likely to take up gambling, for instance, as they could see how much the odds were stacked against them. In the case of Covid 19, we do not know the profile of people who are being taken into Intensive Care. That would be helpful because we could see if we ourselves were vulnerable. But it would be frightening, of course — and politicians are trying to strengthen the rational response of the public.

The data we get on cases over the next few days will help us work out where we are heading. One crucial figure is the increase rate. The daily rise averaged 36 per cent between 4 and 9 March in the UK. At that rate the total doubles in just over two days. If that continues, we are following the Italian trajectory.

*Using the ratio of South East/English cases for 9 March.

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