Comparisons of UK Covid Deaths with Italy

The number of cases and deaths in the UK has been slowly declining and the Government will allow Pubs and Restaurants to open from tomorrow. This post looks at how the UK’s “lighter” touch lockdown compares to that applied in  Italy and then looks wider at the rest of the world. Figure 1 shows a comparison between UK deaths and Italian deaths.

Fig 1. Comparison of UK deaths with those in Italy. The dashed curve are the Italian data advanced 2 weeks.

The UK was just 2 weeks behind Italy although at the time we didn’t know that. The shape of both curves are very similar but the UK eventually fared worse than Italy even after  allowing for the difference in population. It also looks like something went wrong between  the 23rd May and the 8th of June and we are still suffering the consequences.

We also now know that there were far more infections by the beginning of March than were assumed at the time,  so a lockdown 1 week earlier might  have saved up to half the total number of deaths. The reason why we were in the dark in March was simply due to the lack of widespread testing capacity. Italy actually did remarkably well at testing and curtailing the epidemic and now has a low level of infections. The cases curves for both countries are shown in Figure 2.

Fig 2. Confirmed Cases Italy and UK. The flattened curve for UK is due to low early testing capacity.

The reported number of cases in each country also reflects partly the widespread level of testing at the time. For Italy it appears that testing levels were high enough early on in the epidemic because  the shape is similar to reported deaths. The UK shape instead clearly shows a lack of testing data early on highlighting just how unprepared we were initially.

Note also the error in the PHE data for Cumulative Deaths on the 20th May (the negative dip). These are their figures for “Pillar 2” (cases in the community).

18/05 70488
19/05 71796
20/05 70615
21/05 72063

Finally figure 3 shows  how both countries compare to the overall global  picture.

Fig 3. Global Daily Deaths compared to UK/Italy. On this scale the initial outbreak in China looks tiny (are their figures correct?).  Note also the very pronounced “weekend” effect everywhere.

Unfortunately this makes it clear that the pandemic is still quite a long way from ending. There are still increasing numbers of cases across South America, Middle East and the Indian sub-continent. It is also worrying that talk of an Oxford/AstraZeneca  vaccine as early as this September has now been quietly been dropped by SAGE.

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6 Responses to Comparisons of UK Covid Deaths with Italy

  1. Andrew Carey says:

    It looks like you continue to struggle with basic concepts. Take this: “so a lockdown 1 week earlier might have saved up to . . .”
    What does that claim even mean? I know that you agree with the centralisation of many policies and spending programmes to Brussels, so if you have that big government mindset then it must be difficult to understand that there can be two main types of lockdown, voluntary based on education and information and imposed based on treating the public like they are dunces so must be compelled under threat of fines. It’s hard for people assuming governmental policies should determine every outcome to get that distinction.
    There’s another factor at play too. The numbers of people carrying the infection back to the UK in Feb/Mar may actually have been higher than the numbers carrying the infection from the North of Italy to the central areas and the south. Time will tell on that question, but I doubt many central and southern Italians have the inclination or the means to take ski holidays in the upper Bergamo region. Finally we have the fact that the UK lockdown was softer with a specific allowance for exercise.

    • Clive Best says:

      The claim that a lockdown a week earlier would have saved half as many lives is based on Ferguson’s model see:

      At the time everyone (Fergusson included) thought we were 4 weeks behind Italy because there was no testing in the community. It was only when people started being admitted to hospital and dying that they realised there were many thousands of infections doubling in number every 3 days. So you’re right about infections being brought into the UK from Italy and Spain in Feb/March.

      Had PHE had a proper surveillance system in place by the beginning of March then we would have known that, so a lockdown on March 16 would have been more effective and have lasted less time. So it was a failure of Big Government !

  2. Cytokinin says:

    My recent rains have found that antibodies to the virus may lose effect as soon as the weeks after infection. Flu vaccine is typically effective for three months, so I am not holding my breath for a vaccine that will be effective. In the absence of vaccine what should we do? At some point all the vulnerable people in the world will succumb and we will then know that it is something in the environment that we need to live with, a bit like pneumonia which varies of a great number of elderly and weakened people. Perhaps at some point we will have to accept that we can’t put the dyke forever. Comparing one nation with others at this stage may be comparing one level of pointless behaviour with another. Who will eventually be seen as winners and losers? At the moment New Zealand looks good, but with no cure or vaccine, New Zealand will be stuck in the unenviable position of being isolated for ever from the rest of the world.

    • Clive Best says:

      You may be right. It could take up to a year for this pandemic to be over before the virus mutates to a less lethal form. Viruses that kill people before infecting lots of others are less likely to survive. That is what happened in 1918. Alternatively we get better antiviral treatments so that eventually we reach some sort of “herd immunity”.

  3. Bill Treuren says:

    if we assume that having had Covid 19 will afford some protection then the herd immunity that we seek should focus on deciding who forms the basis of that immunity.

    It should in my view be the young that being 50 years and under all who can get it become immune through exposure thus ensuring that the R falls below 1.0 till next year or better.

    We in NZ are stuffed we had good levels of Vit D but we move through winter now so no herd immunity can started till next January, the deaths as a consequence of the induced poverty is expected to be above 10,000. Unfortunately politician live by the axiom not on my watch.

  4. andrewR says:

    Nice post Clive and I agree with your assessment that an earlier lockdown would have saved lives. Mr Carey seems to want to make excuses for the handling of the crises by the UK. There are none and a look at New Zealand, Taiwan or Denmark should provides ample evidence for that.

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