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Mortality modelling research warns of second peak

Some regions of the UK could face a significant second peak of coronavirus deaths post-lockdown, accordingly to mortality modelling commissioned by the NAFD.

Consultancy Europe Economics were tasked with producing scenario models that show what the UK mortality rate might look like to September 2020, especially as lockdown is lifted.

The results suggest that, even if the government is successful in controlling the nationwide spread of coronavirus, some regions of the UK could be in for a significant second peak of deaths, from all causes, and that second peak could be higher if lockdown is lifted less successfully.

With funeral directors under sustained pressure, the NAFD has been pressing Government weekly for the modelling data upon which it is basing its strategy for Covid-19 to support future planning. With no information being provided, research was commissioned to give some idea of what could come next.

The scenarios model potential deaths from all causes, and are based on bringing together published, respected data, including:

•    Two scientific views of the Infection Fatality Rate, one promoted by Oxford University, the Swedish government and Stanford University, and the other promoted by Imperial College London and others
•    Scientific analysis of the reproduction rate in different regions of the UK during the lockdown
•    ONS (and equivalent) weekly deaths data from all four UK nations
•    A range of other published information about the COVID-19 pandemic

The data provides only an approximate indication of the range within which deaths in each area of the UK lie, under a set of plausible scenarios reflecting the current major scientific and policy uncertainty. The models use epidemiological and other scientific assumptions drawn from the current literature, but do not endorse any specific conclusions, given ongoing scientific debate on many aspects.

Europe Economics team leader Andrew Lilico said: “We hope that the models we have produced, though they cover a range of possibilities reflecting current uncertainties, will assist funeral directors in making their business decisions and in providing the best service to bereaved people over the next few months.”

Jon Levett, Chief Executive of the NAFD, added: “What is striking about the modelling is that, based upon the most cautious model of how many Britons have already become infected, different parts of the UK and different regions within England would see significant second peaks with even a successful lifting of the lockdown – most notably Scotland*, Wales, the North East and Yorkshire.

“If lockdown is lifted less successfully, the impact is even more striking, with the potential for those regions to see a second peak higher than the first. The North West and South West would also be significantly affected by a less than successful lifting of lockdown, while London, the East of England, Midlands and Northern Ireland are predicted to have a far lower impact.

“So until we know which of the two models is prevailing, funeral directors in many parts of the UK need to prepare themselves for a significant potential second peak in the death rate – should the government’s easing of lockdown measures not go as well as they are hoping.”

Models will be regularly updated as new data on how lockdown will be lifted, insight from other countries, and progress towards therapeutic treatments become available.  

*Scotland mortality data is gathered slightly differently so there is a greater level of uncertainty around the precise accuracy of these findings – but the risk is significant enough to suggest funeral directors should plan for its likelihood.

Andrew Lilico, who has led the Europe Economics team for this project, is one of Europe’s top economists and the holder of a PhD in Game theory – the study of mathematical models of strategic interaction among rational decision-makers. He is a regular commentator on BBC television and radio, and on Sky, Bloomberg and CNBC Europe. His firm, Europe Economics, is also providing the NAFD with analysis of the economic impact of COVID-19 on the funeral profession in the short and long term.

Click here to view the models.

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