The Spectator

Covid-19 update: Cancer deaths, A&E and the lockdown effect

Covid-19 update: Cancer deaths, A&E and the lockdown effect
San Francisco’s first official temporary tent encampment for the homeless (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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News and analysis 

  • Slogan update. After ‘Stay alert’ comes: ‘Keep our distance, wash our hands, think of others and play our part. All together.’
  • Delays to cancer surgery will lead to almost 5,000 deaths, according to the Institute of Cancer Research. Analysis from Fraser Nelson below.
  • The UK has sold government bonds with a negative interest rate for the first time ever: £3.75 billion worth, maturing in July 2023 with an average yield of -0.003%.
  • Cambridge University said it will switch to online lectures in the next academic year. Meanwhile, more than 20% of prospective students may defer going to university while 25% say they may switch university, according to a study by London Economics.
  • The British Medical Association has dropped its opposition to schools reopening from 1 June. Meanwhile, the government has backtracked on its 1 June deadline for schools reopening.
  • An extra bank holiday could be introduced in October. Visit Britain says domestic tourism had lost the benefit of two bank holidays in May because of the lockdown.
  • China’s government has bailed out Norwegian Airlines, buying a 13% stake.
  • Captain Tom Moore will be awarded a knighthood for his fundraising efforts.

Cancer deaths, A&E and the lockdown effect

by Fraser Nelson

When lockdown was ordered, no serious modelling had been done about the knock-on effect on healthcare. The only calculations were Covid-19 mortality, but the other sums are now starting to be carried out. The Institute of Cancer Research has found that a delay of three months across all 94,912 patients who would have undergone surgery to remove their cancer over the course of a year would lead to an additional 4,755 deaths, according to a study published in Annals of Oncology (pdf here, summary here). But the crude mortality figure doesn’t factor in age. Most UK Covid-19 deaths have taken place amongst the over 80s: healthcare economics usually judges interventions in terms of ‘years of life lost’. The Institute of Cancer Research study calculates that the 4,755 extra deaths would amount to 92,214 years of life lost, as such surgery affords an average 18.1 life years per patient. This compares with an average of five years gained by hospital treatment of Covid-19 patients, it says.

Similar studies have yet to be done for heart complaints, strokes and so on. It could take months, or years, for the full picture to be assembled. Of the 100,000 NHS acute beds, about 40,000 are lying empty – around three times as many as is usual for this time of year. This figure is not made public by the NHS, which is a shame, as it could prompt a debate about what is happening to the patients who would normally be in these beds. Last month, the number of people using A&E was 57 per cent lower than the same month in 2019. What happened to people who would normally have been given emergency care? Where are the studies into this?

In the current issue of The Spectator, Stanford’s Jay Bhattacharya makes some global calculations: lockdowns around the world have pushed trade into reverse, and ‘if lockdown is to cost us two years’ growth, as some have argued, it would end up taking nearly six million young lives in the coming decade,’ he writes. A World Bank study today adds weight to this, saying 60 million more people may be pushed into extreme poverty. We can expect more such studies in the weeks and months ahead.

Socially-distanced rough sleeping, San Francisco
San Francisco’s first official temporary tent encampment for the homeless (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images).
In words
No country that has more complete statistics than we do. Many countries report only those who die in health care. In that case, our figures would be just under half that.

– Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, responding to a Financial Times calculation that Sweden had the most per-capita deaths last week.

Study: Covid-19’s death rate could be between 0.02% and 0.5%

Imperial College assumed that 0.9 per cent of those infected by Covid-19 would die from it. This Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) was used to compute the infamous prediction that 250,000 Britons would die unless the government abandoned its mitigation strategy and instead enforced lockdown. In the past few weeks a slew of serological studies estimating the prevalence of infection in the general population has become available. This has allowed Professor John Ioannidis of Stanford University to work out the IFR in 12 different locations. The values range between 0.02 per cent and 0.5 per cent. The lowest estimates came from Kobe, Japan, found to have an IFR of 0.02 per cent and Oise in Northern France, with an IFR of 0.04 per cent. The highest were in Geneva (a raw figure of 0.5 per cent) and Gangelt in Germany (0.28 per cent). It is noticeable how all these estimates for IFR are markedly lower than the figures thrown about a couple of months ago, when it was widely asserted that Covid-19 was a whole order of magnitude worse than flu.

Read Ross Clark’s full blog here.

Global news

  • The World Bank has warned that 60 million people will fall into extreme poverty as a result of the pandemic.
  • A man in Singapore has been sentenced to death via Zoom call. The lockdown meant the proceedings were conducted by video conference ‘for the safety of all involved’.
  • Most high schools began to reopen in South Korea today.
  • The German public are increasingly seeingChina as an ally, with 36% saying it's more important to have warm relations with China than the US, while 37% said the opposite.
  • The French government has withdrawn its support for professional horse racing held in areas most affected by Covid-19.


On this week’s episode of Coronomics: stories from countries turned upside down, Kate Andrews speaks to our panel – based in New York City, Rome and Hong Kong – about the merits of Covid-19 treatment vs a Covid-19 vaccine, American red tape, Hong Kong’s fairly relaxed approach to new infections, and Italy running out of money.


While many underlying health conditions are already known factors in developing a deadly reaction to Covid-19, new research from the NHS breaks down the severity of the threat caused by diabetes. Multiple studies, published later this week, will reveal that type 1 diabetes presents ‘three and a half times the risk’ of dying in hospital with Covid-19, while those with type 2 are ‘at double the risk’ compared with those who don’t have either condition. However, while both types of diabetes are linked to a significant increase in the likelihood of in-hospital death, the research notes that the ‘strongest risk factor’ connected to the virus is still age.


  • The Centre for Risk Studies at the University of Cambridge says the global economy could lose up to $82 trillion over five years in a depression. Its optimistic prediction is a loss of $3.3 trillion.
  • Rolls Royce will cut 9,000 jobs. The move will largely affect the company’s aerospace division as the pandemic hits the global airline industry.
  • Annual profits at M&S fell by 21%. While food sales rose, the company wrote off £145 million in unsold clothing stock.
  • John Lewis may quarantine clothes returned or tried on by customers. All changing rooms will be closed when shops reopen in June.
  • The price of takeaway food rose in April, according to the ONS. The cost of takeaway pizza rose by 7% and takeaway burgers by 5%.
  • Norwegian Airlines has completed a debt-for-equity restructure that sees a Chinese state-owned company, BOC Aviation, take 12.7% of the capital.

More from The Spectator

Sunak’s coronavirus rescue package looks increasingly unsustainableKate Andrews

The growing evidence on vitamin D and Covid Matt Ridley

What does China actually want from Britain?James Woolas

Stanford study suggests coronavirus might not be as deadly as fluRoss Clark

Is the government blaming the scientists?Katy Balls

Self-isolation tips from Spectator Life

The best restaurant delivery services to try this weekend – Sudi Piggott

Home school club: who coined the word ‘pandemonium’? – Mark Mason

How to lose weight and cut your Covid risk – Tarek S Arab