COVID-19 has generated many mysteries. Here’s one more to add to the list: what happened to hospital admissions in London since mid-October?
Take a look at the red line below: it barely moves. Even when lockdown started and ended, there was barely a flicker. It’s as if the lockdown never happened.
This is one of the many puzzling features to emerge from the second set of lockdowns across the UK.
Instead of becoming clearer, the picture has only got more complicated.
In England, for instance, the lockdown clearly brought down hospital admissions in the North East and Yorkshire.
It did the same in the Midlands, but with a crucial difference; post-lockdown, they started to jump back up again.
The same thing happened in Wales, but to a greater extent. It went into a 17-day “firebreak” lockdown between Friday 23 October and Monday 9 November.
First Minister Mark Drakeford promised it would be a “short, sharp shock to turn back the clock, slow down the virus and give us more time”.
The lockdown did indeed slow down the virus (there is a lag between measures being introduced and them taking effect, so we can clearly see that lockdown worked). But, as this graph shows, it only did so very briefly.
The key factor was most probably what happened when lockdown ended.
Pubs, bars and restaurants reopened – and, sadly, hospitality does seem to increase cases.
The Welsh lockdown delayed the spread of the virus, but because restrictions didn’t stay in place, it was no more than a pause.
What should the Welsh government do next? There is talk of another firebreak, but wouldn’t that just have the same effect as before? Do further restrictions need to be introduced afterwards? Is there a way to slow the spread without imposing the toughest levels of restrictions?
These same questions are also being asked in London, which now has the highest case rate per 100,000 in the country, with 191.8 per 100,000 population. Will it go into Tier 3, despite the economic damage that will do?
There is one argument against a move into Tier 3 – hospital capacity in the capital. Despite the recent rise in admissions, London is still far away from where it was at the peak.
But even if politicians and their scientific advisors are comforted by that, they will be very concerned by the trend depicted in that red line in the graph above – the mysterious rise of hospital admissions.
What you might call “Tier 4” failed to have an obvious impact in London. How do we know that Tier 3 will do any better? And if it doesn’t, what will happen next?