A lot was said and written about the UK's decision to press ahead with July 19, the so-called 'Freedom Day' when restrictions on social contact were lifted. Some greeted this date with a mix of horror, outrage and fury with 1,200 scientists signing a letter which effectively declared the unlocking as 'a threat to the world.'
Much of the commentary focused on claims that there would be 100,000 positive Covid tests a day by July 19 and that a mass unlocking would only increase this. The full effect of the unlocking will only be seen in the fortnight after July 19 and the possibility remains that case numbers will go back up again – as they have done all too often before.
Mercifully though this has not been the case so far, with the numbers for today – 21 July – showing 23,511 positive test results and a seven day figure of 229,828 – a fall of 102,240 or 30.8 per cent from the previous week. Reasons suggested thus far for the fall include school holidays cancelling out the effects of unlocking and that the earlier July spike was caused by mingling for the Euro 2020 tournament.
Still, given the airtime given to those critical voices in the media, whose projections have at times been reported fairly uncritically, Mr S thought it worth rounding up four academics (and one politician) whose predications for late July will (hopefully) remain well wide of the mark.
Professor Anthony Costello – 12 June
After Freedom Day was pushed back from 20 June to 19 July, academics on Independent SAGE predicted the number of cases would sky-rocket, regardless. ISAGE member Anthony Costello, of University College London, said the true daily infection figure was likely more than double the 8,000 recorded in tests, telling the Daily Mirror: 'In a month you'll be up to 100,000 new cases a day. If the Government takes a gamble and lets rip like Tory backbenchers want, the NHS will be overloaded. Let's wait. Let's stay as we are.'
Professor Christina Pagel – 2 July
Another member of Independent SAGE who told the New Scientist: ‘I don’t think I can be a safe member of society when we have 100,000 cases a day.’ She later wrote a piece for the Guardian headed ‘Boris Johnson gave two reasons for lifting all restrictions. Both are wrong’ in which she claimed: ‘cases will keep rising, currently doubling every fortnight or so, until either population immunity is high enough or public health measures are effective enough – or a combination of both – to halt Covid’s spread.’ Pagel projected on July 2 a 70 per cent growth in cases, which would mean a ‘90K seven-day average’ ‘100K cases a day by 19 July.’ As it transpired, less than three weeks later, the seven-day average on Freedom Day was 41,302 with 34,245 new cases that day.
What does this mean? 70% growth is about 9 day doubling time & 18 days left till 19 July.Growth has accelerated recently but projecting forward at current 70% gives 90K 7 day average & over 100K cases a day by 19 July.Charts show same thing on log and normal scales. 4/24 pic.twitter.com/cWXJfDkkzt— Prof. Christina Pagel (@chrischirp) July 2, 2021
Dr Susan Hopkins – 11 July
The Public Health England member told Times Radio that the UK's coronavirus third wave was 'three doubling times away from the peak, unless something changes' just eight days before Freedom Day. This would have potentially meant more than 200,000 cases a day within six weeks, by the end of August. She added that no one could 'ringingly endorse' the decision to lift all restrictions and the country had to be braced for them to return at short notice if hospital admissions rose too much.
Professor Neil Ferguson – 18 July
The Imperial academic known simply as ‘Professor Lockdown’ appeared on the BBC a day before restrictions were lifted to warn of impending doom. He told Andrew Marr: ‘I think 100,000 cases a day is almost inevitable’ adding: ‘I think it’s almost certain we’ll get through 1,000 hospitalisations per day; it’ll almost certainly get to 100,000 cases a day. The real question is: do we get to double that or even higher? And that’s where the crystal ball starts to fail. I mean we could get to 2,000 hospitalisations a day, 200,000 cases a day but it’s much less certain.’ He concluded that, at that level, which was roughly half the level of Christmas 2020, there would be major disruptive of services and cancellations of elective surgery.
Sir Keir Starmer – 19 July
The fence-straddler-in-chief has been careful to avoid overreaching himself against Johnson, leaving other Labour outriders to make stronger attacks against the government. Nevertheless, it was just eight days ago the Leader of the Opposition claimed: 'Lifting all restrictions in one go is reckless and doing so when the Johnson Variant is clearly out of control risks a summer of chaos...This will not be Freedom Day for the 100,000 people per day catching Covid and the millions more being asked to isolate. The Government has, once again, lost control of the virus.’
Boris Johnson's recklessness means we're going to have an NHS summer crisis.The Johnson Variant is already out of control - and we're heading to 100,000 cases a day.pic.twitter.com/8mZmP6fv6p— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) July 19, 2021
Let's hope such predictions continue to be disproved by good news in the future.