The latest Sage papers have been published, envisaging anything from 200 to 6,000 deaths a day from Omicron depending on how many more restrictions we’ll get — up to and very much including another lockdown. Earlier today I had an unexpected chance to ask questions of Graham Medley, the chair of the Sage modelling committee.
He’s a professor at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) which last weekend published a study on Omicron with very gloomy scenarios and making the case for more restrictions. But JP Morgan had a close look at this study and spotted something big: all the way through, LSHTM assumes that the Omicron variant is just as deadly as Delta. ‘But evidence from South Africa suggests that Omicron infections are milder,’ JP Morgan pointed out in a note to clients. Adjust for this, it found, and the picture changes dramatically:
Bed occupancy by Covid-19 patients at the end of January would be 33% of the peak seen in January 2021. This would be manageable without further restrictions.
So JP Morgan had shown that, if you tweak one assumption (on severity) then — suddenly — no need for lockdown.
Why was this scenario left out? Why would this fairly important and fairly basic fact on Omicron modelling not presented by Sage modellers like Professor Medley to ministers — and to the general public? I was delighted to get the chance to speak to him on Twitter. It was kind of him to make the time. The conversation started with a reference to The Spectator data hub: it has a page devoted to past Sage modelling vs actual, and I wanted to make sure I was not being unfair to Sage in my selection or presentation of those charts.
The latest Sage paper-drop — the 6,000-deaths-a-day one — refers to ‘scenarios,’ not predictions. Professor Medley emphasises the distinction: saying something could happen is not saying that there’s a realistic chance of it happening.