Church leaders are following carefully what is happening regarding the delayed Stage 4 of COVID re-opening in England (Scotland and Wales come under different measures but there tends to be a high level of convergence between the countries). So, how are things looking? Will we be good to go on the 19th July or might we expect another delay? And if we see another delay, then will that lead to indefinite restrictions?
Andrew Lillico in the Daily Telegraph is pessimistic. His argument is that, particularly as the delay looks likely to last the full four weeks (he was hoping that the Government would at least settle on the earlier option of the 5th July) that there will be further delays because by July 19th (or 12th when we might expect the decision) cases will be at their peak and hospitalisations still rising too. It’s worth having a look at his argument therefore and seeing if it is credible.
What we know is that at the moment, COVID cases are increasing at a rapid rate. The growth rate was as high as >60% a couple of weeks back meaning that we could have expected cases to double every week. As Andrew notes, this has slowed down. Towards the end of last week, the growth rate was closer to 30%. Andrew predicted we would see a further slow down towards the end of this week. This prediction has been brought into question a little by a sudden jump in reported cases on the 23rd June so that the growth rate went back over 40%. Whether this is a blip or a return to rapid growth now remains to be seen. My suspicion is that we are seeing a normalising of the growth rate, a return to mean. In other words 60% growth was unusually high and this was corrected in later data by the lower growth rate.
It is also worth noting that there are different ways of getting a feel for the prevalence of COVID in society. The government data reports on positive PCR tests. There are two problems with this. The first is that because PCR tests take time to process, there is a lag of about 8 days in reporting. The second is that PCR tests don’t necessarily catch all cases because not everyone, especially those who are asymptomatic or experiencing mild symptoms that could be confused with colds or hay fever gets tested. So, whilst there have been 16,000 cases reported yesterday, the ZOE app which uses both the reported tests and data fed in by users to estimate the likely prevalence of the disease has been suggesting that cases have been closer to 19-20,000 recently. In good news, their dat has suggested that the daily number of new cases may well be slowing down.
Having said all that, the likelihood is that Andrew is right and we’ll see cases increasing until mid July and hospitalisations too. That’s also what a number of models have predicted. If that happens, then we will be coming out of the last stages of lockdown around about the time that cases, admissions and deaths from the third wave are peaking. Will this spook the Government and cause them to delay again.
My personal view is that it won’t. The reason is that all of the models and predictions have effectively priced in the expectation that cases and hospital admissions will peak in mind July. The Government put the delay in knowing what to expect. Of course, there could be new information that knocks us off track and completely changes the picture such as the discovery that another variant was more prevalent and more dangerous than previously assumed. However, if not then I think we are on track.
You see, the factors that matter are not “what will the case load be like at the time when we come out of stage 4” but rather “what is the likely scenario a few weeks on from that?” And on that front, the picture going forward is reasonably positive for a few reasons.
The crucial reasons are:
- That schools will be breaking up from the 19th July onwards and that should affect transmission in younger people
- A much greater proportion of the population will be double jabbed further reducing the risk of hospitalisation, ICU and death.
- Good sunny weather should encourage people to be outdoors where the risk of transmission is lower.
So, my advice to churches would be to work on the assumption that 19th July will go ahead. The factors above to my mind always made it a better option than 21st June. Of course we need to be ready for all eventualities so do have contingency plans in place. And further, we can contribute to the public good by re-opening responsibly. We can do this by
- Encouraging congregation members to get vaccinated.
- Continuing to have good contact tracing in place
- Making use of good weather to where possible take our congregations outside (I know one church currently alternating between a service inside and a service in the grounds).
Let’s keep using the delay period to prepare well for full re-opening.