Updated on 4th April 2020. New and modified links are italicised.
The Coronavirus Pandemic is a worldwide challenge many of us will have not experienced before. It is natural to want to seek information on the risks and in our world today, it has never been easier to find data, analyses and opinions. Unfortunately, a lot of what you will read out there is either unhelpful or actively misleading. As an independent statistician with 30 years experience of explaining statistics to non-statisticians, my contribution to this crisis will be to try and sort the good from the bad hence this post.
Since 15th March 2020, I have been rapidly bringing myself up to date on the data, statistics and science of Coronavirus/Covid19/SARS-COV-2. The result has been an ever expanding list of links to useful material and I have organised these links below into various groups. I will be updating this list throughout the crisis so please feel free to bookmark this link. I will try and alert people to fresh updates using my Twitter feed.
Please note, since I am based in the UK, my links will be biased towards material of most interest to people living in the UK. If you come across a link that you think should be added to/removed from this list then please email me. However, please bear in mind that the prime purpose of this post is to demystify coronavirus for non-statisticians and non-scientists. Therefore, I will not be linking to material I consider to be too technical for the general public.
Currently, I have organised my links into 5 sections –
- A: Good sources of data, analysis and scientific information
- B: Links to UK government advice, planning and decisions
- C: Statistical models of the pandemic
- D: Comments from the Science Media Centre
- Z: Miscellaneous material
A: Good sources of data, analysis and scientific information
When it comes to getting data, these sources have been useful to me.
- Daily number of cases, deaths and recoveries in the UK by local authority – This is provided by Public Health England. To get data for individual local authorities, you need to zoom in on the map and select the relevant one. A table then appears in the map giving you the figures. You can also get the same data from the BBC here which also provides population figures for each local authority.
- Update 29/3/20 – You can now download the latest data in a spreadsheet.
- Update 31/3/20 – awareness of data limitations has risen among the public and PHE are being criticised for not making these limitations clear in their data. See this blog by Simon Briscoe for a description of issues.
- Update 3/4/20 – This Science Media Centre commentary gives useful information on why deaths for a particular day in the UK can vary due to timing & definition issues.
- Daily number of cases, deaths and recoveries by Country – This is a Github link prepared by John Hopkins university in the USA. Many media platforms are using charts created by John Hopkins. I have not yet looked at this in great depth but it does have a lot of links.
- Analysis of trends in cases & deaths by country – This is a fantastic resource prepared by the Our World in Data organisation. If you want to read just one link, start with this one. It takes the same data as given in link A2 above but adds commentary, context and interpretation. A number of the charts are interactive allowing you to choose which countries you want displayed and where the scales should linear or logarithmic. As far as I can tell, this is being updated daily so is worth bookmarking.
- Update 19/3/20 – OWID have advised that the World Health Organisation (WHO) data is no longer reliable and so they are using their own data sources going forward.
- What is Coronavirus and the science behind it – This is a slide deck prepared by Michael Lin, an academic from California. It is a good introduction to the science of SARS-COV-2 (the correct name for the virus) and what was known and not known as of 13th March 2020. Some of the information may be out of date by the time you come to read it so use this as background before reading link A3 above.
- Comparing Covid19 death rates to normal death rates – This is an article by David Spiegelhalter, former President of the Royal Statistical Society, who looks at how the known death rates of Coronavirus compares with normal mortality in the UK across different ages. It provides a method for future statisticians to determine the overall additional number of deaths as a result of this pandemic.
- Advice from Information Commissioner on data collection – The virus has prompted a desire to collect information from the public about their symptons and other information. Since this has potential data privacy implications, the information commissioner has put out this statement and Q&A.
B: Links to UK Government advice, planning and decisions
These are all links to official government advice on what UK citizens should be doing to help prevent the spread of the virus.
- Latest advice by the NHS
- Government advice on what to do and not do
- Government advice on social distancing
- Useful collection of government links
- The original government plan for Pandemics prepared in 2011 and updated in 2013. Undoubtedly this is what the government started with.
- An article written by the Chief Scientific Officer on 15th March 2020
- Links to all papers used by SAGE group. SAGE is the scientific body that advises COBRA, the government crisis management body. Where relevant I have linked to specific SAGE papers elsewhere.
- Options offered by the government to businesses affected by government restrictions
- Options offered by the government to employees affected by government restrictions. This link includes some advice given in links B1 to B4 above.
- Options offered by the government to self-employed people affected by government restrictions – The Chancellor announced a package of measures on 26th March but as of 29th March, the details have not yet been published by the government. Some details are in link B9 above but that link does not have full details. Once the link is made available, I will link it here.
C: Statistical models of the pandemic
Statistical models of the pandemic are important tools to help governments plan their response to pandemics. Models also help you to identify the areas of greatest uncertainty which are either the factors that have the largest impact or factors that are very hard to measure or both.
- Imperial College simulation model – This paper was published on 16th March 2020 and played a major part in the government’s decision to ramp up measures the same day. Unlike a lot of academic papers, this is quite short at 20 pages and is very readable.
- Comments on Imperial College Paper 1 – It is wrong to assume all scientists agree with each other. There are always debates and the Imperial College paper has prompted a series of comments. These comments are made by a group of people which includes Nassim Taleb.
- Comments on Imperial College Paper 2 – This an article by John Ioannides, Professor of Epidemiology at Stanford University. Whilst not directly addressing the paper, it was published the day after the paper and makes a number of points relevant to it.
- Comments on Imperial College Paper 3 – This is a twitter thread by Trevor Bedford, an epidemiologist from Washington USA, published 19th March 2020.
- Demonstration of a Epidemic Simulation Model – This is a neat interactive demonstration by The Washington Post of how you can build a model to simulate epidemics and thus identify which measures are best for slowing down an epidemic.
- Measuring model parameters in real time – This is an interesting twitter thread by Alex Adamour, Director of London Mathematical Laboratory, which discusses the parameters that epidemiological models need to know and the difficulties in estimating these parameters during a pandemic.
- First estimates of Case Mixes of UK Intensive Care Patients – On 27th March 2020, the UK Intensive Care National Audit & Research Centre (ICNARC), published its analysis of the first 775 patients to be admitted with Covid19. The 9 page report summarises the case mix of these patients i.e. how they break down by demographics and status of health. These estimates are essential to modelling future scenarios and answering the question whether the NHS will be able to cope with peak demand. The Science Media Centre (explained in section D) released a number of expert comments on this paper here.
- Difficulties in measuring model parameters – This is a similar article to link C8 above but I think Tom Chivers, a very good science journalist, does a better job of getting the same points across.
- Estimating the sample size for making decisions about COVID19 – This is an article I wrote on 2nd April 2020 in response to the twitter hive mind asking what sample size would be needed for mass testing. I prefaced the article by holding a Twitter poll here.
If you want to learn more about statistical modelling in general, you can find a collection of blog posts about modelling that I have written here.
D: Comments from the Science Media Centre
The Science Media Centre is an organisation that seeks comments on papers, press releases, government decisions, etc from a panel of relevant scientists. The panel includes statisticians for when statistical comments are needed and I am one of the statisticians on that panel. The SMC collates these comments and circulates the commentary to journalists to assist them in the writing of their articles. Journalist feedback is that they find these commentaries to be very useful.
You can follow the Science Media Centre on Twitter which is a good way of being informed of new comments. As you can imagine, the coronavirus has prompted a regular series of comments and I have chosen to list some of them below. If you would like to see a full list of their comments please click on the 1st link below.
- Complete list of comments on Covid19
- Comments on the safety of home deliveries – useful pointers about the relative risk of buying your groceries from supermarkets compared to on-line deliveries
- Comments on extent of infection in the UK – the 25th March saw many stories circulate about the possibility of up to 50% of the UK population being already infected with the disease. Estimating this figure is important for statistical modelling and decision making.
- Comments on why antibody tests are so important – the UK Chief Medical Officer stated these would be “a game changer”.
- Comments on whether smokers are a higher risk group – anecdotal data suggests smokers are more at risk from COVID19 and this is discussed by a variety of relevant experts here.
- Comments on reliability of UK death statistics – the data published by PHE in link A1 above is #deaths by date of recording. This creates some issues over interpretation as the experts explain here.
Z: Miscellaneous material
This was section D but was relabelled section Z on 25th March 2020.
This collection of links will be very eclectic. They are either posts on points related to the Coronavirus that I may want to talk about in future or they are links to material that don’t yet fit into the above 3 categories or they are articles that appear to be relevant but where I am unsure as to the expertise of the author.
- Who are the experts that the media should be talking to? – An article by a statistician, Graeme Archer, who makes a plea to the media to be careful about who they designate as “experts”.
- Agreement & disagreements among experts – A short article by Michael Blastland on the nature of disagreement among experts.
- A comparison of death rates in Italy & South Korea – An economist, Andreas Backhaus, explores why the death rates of these countries (& Germany) are so different and what the implications for decision makers would be.
- Mapping facilities for older people in the UK – This interactive map was developed by my colleague and client Mark Thurstain-Goodwin of GeoFutures who specialise in mapping data. It shows the prevalence of older people in the UK along with information on key support and facilities for the more vulnerable such as supermarkets, foodbanks, etc. It’s aimed at charities who provide support and need to know this kind of information during the pandemic.