Kate Andrews

Does the data support renewing Covid emergency powers?

Does the data support renewing Covid emergency powers?
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Last night MPs voted by 484 to 76 to renew the Coronavirus Act, which grants the state emergency powers to further control – and shut down – most parts of society. The Liberal Democrats voted against the extension, along with 35 Conservative MPs who rebelled and voted against the government, citing as their main concern the widening gap between these unprecedented powers and the danger Covid-19 presents in the UK. The latest iteration of the bill has been renewed until September – three months after the last date in Boris Johnson’s roadmap – and includes the toughest restrictions on international travel yet.

When the Prime Minister announced his roadmap out of lockdown last month, he pledged that ultimately his decisions would be driven by ‘data, not dates.’ So what story is the data telling us, after MPs voted to renew these emergency powers again?

Covid infections

The seven-day average for Covid infections in the UK has fallen by over 90 per cent since the January peak, with cases now hovering around where they were in mid-September last year. The fall in infections plateaued in March, which was accompanied by the return of all school children in England at the start of the month – a major reopening that has yet to cause a spike in infections.

Hospitalisation

The daily count for patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19 is down 90 per cent from the latest peak, with intensive care admissions down over 90 per cent too, alongside infections. In London, the number of critical care beds occupied is at its lowest since the start of the year.

Covid deaths

The seven-day average for deaths from Covid-19 fell below 100 earlier this month, and now sits 94 per cent below the January peak. Last week, for the first time since September, no excess deaths were reported in England and Wales.

The vaccine factor

The data above is linked to the UK’s hugely successful vaccine rollout, which this week hit the milestone of vaccinating over half of the UK’s adult population with at least their first dose.

The UK continues to storm ahead in the international vaccine race, ranking in the top three countries for the rate of population vaccinated.

Even if a supply crunch does reduce the UK’s vaccination capacity, the progress so far means that Britain is still on track to complete Phase One of the rollout (which includes all the over-50s and people made vulnerable by underlying health conditions) by 15 April. The Spectator’s vaccine tracker currently suggests the rollout will hit the government’s target of 31.8 million doses on 31 March, 15 days early.

It’s estimated that vaccinating these groups will give protection to those who would otherwise make up over 99 per cent of Covid deaths.

The effects of the vaccine rollout can also be seen in the breakdown of Covid cases by age group, with cases amongst the over-65s falling at a faster rate than younger age groups.

The ONS antibody survey reaffirms that the vaccine factor is at work, with prevalence of antibodies highest in the oldest age categories in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In England, it is estimated that nearly 35 per cent of the population have antibodies generated from either vaccines or infection, up from roughly 10 per cent three months ago, when the vaccine programme was just starting.

Despite cabinet ministers including Matt Hancock and Grant Shapps previously arguing that the gates to freedom should open after the most vulnerable were vaccinated, the UK is still set to live under lockdown measures for months to come – and tough ones too. While Britain currently has the second-lowest rate of Covid infections in Europe, it remains in one of the strictest lockdowns in the developed world. 

Yet as of today, the government can extend the use of these powers for another six months if it deems it necessary, though it's widely hoped the roadmap won't be delayed. Still, the current data raises questions that go far beyond specific dates in the timeline: mainly, does the current threat of the virus match our response to it? 

The above data is from The Spectator’s Data Hub, where you can keep daily tabs on the pandemic.