COVID-19 | Second Wave – Time to Brace Ourselves?

Read Matthew Plail's latest blog

Comparing the number of cases in each wave is a difficult thing to do with certainty because different conditions exist now compared to the first wave. What is clear is that there is a much more extensive testing program in the current wave when compared to the first. At the outbreak of the first wave the level of testing for COVID-19 was restricted to hospital admissions which has subsequently expanded to meet the government’s 100,000 test a day target. The Government is now testing at a rate of around 300,000 tests a day. If I (simply) calculate the average number of COVID-19 cases per tests over the last seven days and apply this to the cases in the first wave (source https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/testing)* then the number of cases in the first wave are likely to have peaked not at around 6,000 cases a day but at over 100,000 cases a day for the UK as a whole. This staggering difference is highlighted in the graph below (note daily testing data is only available from April onwards).

It is important to recognise that the current testing regime is still not picking up all the daily cases in the second wave. To try and analyse this I have taken data from the ONS survey which tests private households in England using nose and throat swabs, whether they are reporting symptoms or not. The comparison is limited to the data available which broadly appears to be suggesting actual cases might be 2 to 3 times higher than reported in the second wave (compared to 15 to 20 times higher in the first wave). 

This might mean that the latest numbers of UK daily cases reported (19,724 at date of writing) might actually be in the range of 40,000 to 60,000 cases and this would compare to an estimated peak rate in the first wave of over 100,000. Sir Patrick Vallance suggested that daily infections could peak at 50,000 reported cases a day which might mean actual cases of between 100,000 and 150,000 i.e. similar to the estimated first wave levels. It would therefore appear that the although the second wave is not yet yielding as many  cases as the first wave at the date of writing, the indication is that without significant intervention that levels could now rise to and beyond those in the first wave.

The daily death rate is 137 at date of writing compared to around 1,100 a day first wave peak. This is relatively low and could, in part, be explained by new pharmaceutical interventions, younger less susceptible people being tested and a lag effect of the disease reaching those truly vulnerable. However, while every single death is tragic, this trend does point to a much lower death rate per infection than the first wave (broadly 20%) and is consistent with Sir Patrick Vallance’s 50,000 reported cases a day implying 200+ deaths a day for the following month in the second wave.

Clearly this dreadful disease will be mitigated over time by medical interventions but the flu vaccine tells us there may not be a golden panacea; the flu vaccine is not 100% effective (far from it) and the take-up rate is certainly not 100%. So I am not sure if we will ever get to the Government's Alert level 1 (virus no longer present) but I hope somewhere close in time.

At XPS, we continue to track the progress of the disease (see XPS COVID-19 Tracker) and assess the potential impact for our pension scheme clients (see XPS COVID Analytics). We are able to analyse the health vulnerabilities of scheme members (for a number of diseases not just COVID-19) and scenario-test potential longevity outcomes which feed into assumption setting.

The source of the charts are available here. See the Open Government Licence for sharing this data here.

To view our XPS COVID-19 Impact Analytics and videos, click here

If you would like more information or to comment please contact Matthew Plail.