‘Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.’ There are lots of sayings about statistics, but I think this one by Mark Twain best describes where we are at, regarding hospital figures and Covid-19.
There are three questions that currently need answering when it comes to the Covid debate: firstly, are we experiencing a second wave? Secondly, is the NHS under imminent threat either regionally or nationally from a rise in infections? And thirdly, will government restrictions actually help?
But the misunderstanding and unrepresentative use of admittedly complex data and statistics is rampant, and we are no closer to getting answers to these questions.
When it comes to the existence of a second wave, it is clear that positive case numbers are up. But there is next to no point comparing positive figures on a daily basis, because of delays in reporting, differences in numbers tested each day, and because of the biases introduced by the Test and Trace system – which by definition directs testing towards those most likely to return positive tests.
Any rise in cases may now be levelling off. The obvious main drivers for the increase were probably secondary school transmission and the return of university students. This is now reaching an equilibrium following initial outbreaks.