The Prevalence of Numbers

Defining Characteristics

One defining characteristic of covid has been the prevalence of numbers which both help define the pandemic and provide guidance for human behaviour. There is the sombre daily incantation, in mainstream media news bulletins concerning numbers of cases, hospitalisations, and deaths. They are presented on screen–tens of thousands of this, hundreds of that –as if somehow by presenting them in this way, covid itself can be held at bay or shamed into insignificance. And these “bad” numbers have recently been joined by a “good” number –the number of vaccinations, currently about 20 million.

Rules (can we understand them?)

At the other end of the scale there is the R-number which is “good” if it is less than 1. Then there is another number in the Rule of 6, although what does it mean? Does it apply to me? Can I safely circumvent it? What latitude does it allow?

Alerts or Tiers

There are 4 tiers that describe what the English are allowed (or forbidden) to do. Wales –using a different name withsomewhat different definitions – also has 4, although they are called Alert levels. But Scotland, perhaps wanting to be seen to be different, has 5 levels which confusingly come with a highest level of 4 (because the levels start at zero rather than 1).

Numbers & a colour scheme

And almost forgotten, are the 5 UK-wide Alert levels that describe the status of covid –they come both with numbers and a colour scheme. Currently we are in the Orange level –Level 4 –having moved down from Level 5 in the past week. This means that the risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed is no longer an issue, but transmissions are high or perhaps rising exponentially (which they are not because they are actually falling).

Another 5

And this week too, we have been introduced to another 5 –the five weeks between the 4, or possibly 5, or even 6, step changes in lockdown restrictions. Five weeks are necessary because the effects on covid transmissions resulting from a change in restrictions (perhaps restaurants being allowed to serve meals al fresco) take three weeks to appear in the statistics, a further week is necessary to analyse the numbers, and then a week to decide what to do next.

Thank you for reading part of the Monday 1st March 2021 Weekly Briefing and full edition can be found at Weekly Briefing Report.