If you want the lockdown to end because you think it worked and we can now relax, you need to see the graphs that follow.

On 13 May, President Ramaphosa said there was ‘clear evidence that the lockdown has allowed us to achieve our objective of delaying the spread of Covid-19 and avoiding a massive surge in infections that would have overwhelmed our healthcare system’.

Attached to this statement, on the official @GovernmentZA Twitter handle, is the following graph.

It looks encouraging. But this graph does not show, as it purports to show, the increase of cases on any given day compared to cases on the previous day. Rather, it shows the increase on a day compared to the total number of cases up to that point.

In other words, 100% on the graph above means total cases doubled in one day. For example, on 10 March there were 4 cases confirmed in one day, but up until then there were a total of 3 confirmed cases. Hence the ‘daily percent increase’ was 133%, as you can see in the first spike above.

But when case numbers grow, such daily doubling cannot happen, so the curve is bound to flatten even if the virus is spreading like bushfire in the wind. Consider the same formula applied to Italy.

The graph above would be ‘clear evidence’, on the president’s formulation, that Italy’s curve was flattened significantly, long before its lockdown, and that its infection rate stayed low ever after.

Except, that is the opposite of what happened.

In the week after 23 February, when the graph above shows a ‘significant flattening’ of the curve, Italy was confirming roughly 60 cases per day. But by late March actual reproduction of the virus ripped through Italy with 6 000 new cases being detected per day in the peak highlighted above.

In short, the kind of graph the president used as ‘clear evidence’ tells you so little that it makes invisible one of the world’s worst epidemic peaks in 2020. Ramaphosa’s use of this graph does tell you something about the presidency, the government, and those media bosses who left it un-fact checked.

The government is not alone in misleading the nation with specious graphs. On 27 April, trained doctor and former Vice Chancellor of UCT, Max Price, provided this graph to boast of SA’s ‘significant flattening of the curve’ of Covid-19 cases in comparison with the UK.

Again, it looks great. The graph seems to show more ‘incontrovertible evidence’ that we flattened the curve with the ‘kink’ appearing on 27 March, the day after the lockdown.

But Price also fails to contextualize this with testing rates, creating the misimpression that we have outperformed the UK. Even the London Sunday Timeswas duped, republishing Price’s piece.

As you can see from the graph below SA’s ‘kink’ towards a flatter curve in new cases comes at exactly same time as a ‘kink’ towards a flatter curve in new tests.

Sadly, what you see above is that we didn’t flatten the Covid-19 curve, we ‘kinked’ the testing. Here is an important graph to get the bigger picture of the relation between testing numbers and the number of cases detected.

Price says SA is ‘exceptional’ at ‘flattening the curve’, but this graph shows where SA’s true exceptionalism lies. Leading up to the lockdown, we ramped up testing aggressively, and then spiked at 8 066 tests on 27 March. Then testing dropped to half that rate in a day, and then in half again in a week, and then eventually to zero on 6 April. No other country has done this. No other ‘Command Council’ locked a country down to drop, and then stop, testing.

This particular testing spike-and-dip created the false impression of a spike in cases being suddenly averted and then reversed right after the lockdown started. This anomaly has allowed lockdown champions to claim glory for the government.

‘In the week prior to the lockdown,’ Saul Musker wrote, ‘confirmed cases were increasing at an average of 33%. In the weeks since, that rate has stabilised at between 4% and 6%’, thus there is ‘incontrovertible evidence’ that ‘the lockdown worked’.

It gets worse. On 13 May, Ramaphosa boasted about SA’s low case numbers compared to the US, UK, Spain, Italy, and Singapore, but failed to observe that our testing (relative to the time since the first 100 cases and relative to population) has been much lower than those countries too.

Here is another way of looking at it, showing tests in various countries 57 days after their first 100 confirmed cases.

Are the testing numbers so erratic that we can tell nothing about the true infectious curve? In April, I used a formula established by a Harvard professor of strategy and a mathematics professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to approximate the ‘effective reproduction rate’ of SARS-CoV-2 in SA. That formula has since been improved in the Harvard Business School working paper to account for limited variances in testing like those we have seen in the week since 6 April, and I have updated it accordingly.

Here, the thing to know is that if ‘R’ is above one that means the virus is growing exponentially, otherwise it is shrinking. Our testing data, which has been much more stable over this period, indicate that Covid-19 spread exponentially since lockdown Level 5.

Experts have advised that if testing data is uncertain then death rates must be consulted to estimate the rate of viral penetration. This graph shows the total number of deaths and, in the bars below, the number of deaths per day up to 17 May.

Bear in mind that there is a delay between infection and death. The average period is estimated to be 18 days, which means the overwhelming majority of deaths in May were due to infections that took place before or during ‘Level 5’ in April. The rate of deaths is increasing, exponentially, (statistically, confidence is R ^ 2 > 0.99, which shows a very good fit).

This is corroborating evidence that Covid-19 continued to spread exponentially through Level 5 and Level 4 of the lockdown.

The next thing to consider is how much worse viral spread would have been if we had not entered lockdown. On 13 May, Ramaphosa claimed ‘the best current estimate is that, without the lockdown and other measures we have taken, at least 80 000 South Africans could have been infected by now.’

What Ramaphosa does not seem to realize is that we quite likely do have 80 000 infected by now, already.

For example, in New York State, 1 in 10 cases were undetected, despite far more tests per capita than South Africa, on 1 May, according to Worldometer. If 1 in 10 cases are going undetected in SA, then 110 000 were already infected here by 13 May.

Could it be any worse? In a sense yes. The president claims the ‘best estimates’ indicate deaths would have been 8 times greater without a lockdown. Here, that is graphically represented.

This growth is in line, albeit on the low end, with the kind of predictions Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London, made public on 16 March, prompting lockdowns around the world. Experts have found Ferguson’s computer models to be extraordinarily buggy, and unprecedentedly opaque.

But the fundamental problem with his model is simpler than that. In Ferguson’s paper, perhaps the most influential such document in history, he supposed that on a ‘do nothing’ approach to tackling Covid-19 there would be no ‘control measures’ and also no ‘spontaneous changes in individual behaviour’ [emphasis added].

‘Do nothing’ on Ferguson’s model means no one wears masks, or cancels their weddings, or holidays, or daily visits. It means not one person washes their hands more often. No one shifts to working from home, no factories refit, no schools and no universities shift to teaching online, no concerts are cancelled, no stores cap the number of customers that can visit at a time, and no one self-isolates. Not even one person.

On Ferguson’s ‘do nothing’ model, people that are sick, and know they are sick, with Covid-19 keep going to work, unmasked, unbothered, until they get sick enough to collapse or die.

Comparing SA’s actual deaths to this ‘do nothing’ alternative is deeply misleading. Is that what Ramaphosa and his ‘Command Council’ are doing? There is no way to know for sure, since the models have been kept secret.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for a fresh and sound perspective! A light shining in the dark mushroom incubation-room where the populace is being fed manure

  2. Its the normal BBB for the ANC. Bullsh*t Baffles Brains.
    They are sticking their finger in a pile and checking if it tastes like the pile. And yes they declare they are right.

  3. This serves as a necessary reminder to question all statements, graphs, data, projections and figures presented by our government to justify whatever new diktat they choose to justify. It never ceases to amaze me how gullible people are. We need to guard against taking anything at face value. This should go without saying especially where the ANC is involved.

    • Sadly not feasible when a communist state holds all the source data and refuses to divulge it or the methodology behind their 30% maths. Also NB to note that death figures, which are normally considered a very reliable value since they are pretty binary, and being shamelessly manipulated with no-one dying of anything other than co-vid in recent times.

  4. I believe Mr Crouse’s analysis is tendentious and mostly wrong. It also smacks of personalised attacks in that he accuses me not just of misinterpreting data – which he would be well entitled to do – that kind of debate is welcome among scientists. No, he accuses me of “misleading the nation with specious graphs”. That polemic suggests he might have other agendas than balanced analysis. At any rate, I do hope the editor will offer me a right of reply. Detailed rebuttal here is not easy since there is no scope for inserting graphs.

    • Hi Dr Price,

      We would most certainly welcome a right of reply from you.

      Please email it to marius [at] irr.org.za

      Regards,
      Marius

      • Marius, why was gabriel allowed to write this vomit. For someone who studied so called studied philosophy at no time implemented critical thinking, critical reading, critical writing etc. the so called skills that philosophy is supposed to teach you.

        He misinterpret, maybe deliberate all the graphs and at no point was there one day without any testing as he claims. If you get your data from the right source, NICD or from minister of health, you will have all the data for every single day.

        You can’t calculate RSA R0 value from the source he used. Mainly because our daily results is a mixed of samples taken between 2-10 days ago. We are not like the USA, South Korea etc. where our results today is yesterdays samples. Further, I doubt that method is very accurate as none of the two authors are experts in the field.

        No, no country has gone into lockdown because of neil fergusons model, except for the UK. By the time ferguson’s model was made public, more than 10 countries was already in lockdowns. Ferguson used his model to convince boris johnson to move the UK into lockdown and showed him what they can expect if THEY DO NOTHING. That other countries went into lockdown because of his model is just a bunch of journalist diarrhea. At no point was his model to predict any outcome if restrictions are put in place and thus should not be interpreted like that. Using two msm articles where none of the critics are infectious disease epidemiologist modelers ends up to be more diarrhea.

        Last but not least, Countries based their restrictions and lockdowns on what we have learned from past pandemics especially the spanish flu of 1918. Many research have been done about this and it is not a secret. Further, at no point did the government said that the lockdown will stop the covid19. They said it will suppress the spread temporally before it will increase again. The graph that prof karim showed us during his initial media briefing illustrates exactly that and that is exactly how our graph is looking at the moment. The government knew we will not get the same results as what Australia and New Zealand got from their lockdowns. They were clear about that and that it will only buy us some time shifting the peak out by a couple of weeks.

        So far, they have not lied to us about that. So, what is the reason with this diarrhea for an article. Why all this lies or is it to do with incompetence? Where is the journalism? Why was max price not contacted to obtain his input? Why was the NICD or health minister contacted to get their input? Why was no infectious disease epidemiologist contacted for their input? Are their some ulterior political motives behind this BS article? How can anybody trust any research the IRR does, if the IRR can’t even do something basic as this correct?

        Rather leave the epidemiology to epidemiologists and stay with your politics. And this is only the tip of the iceberg of what is wrong with this article. facepalm

  5. Hi Gabriel
    Well done for this article. I particularly like the effective comparison of the South Africa’s clear evidence to that of Italy: debunking the “clear evidence”. Your chart of tests vs new cases is also very useful.
    I believe there is also a key aspect of the delay between infection and case identification that I don’t believe has been highlighted by anybody: and that shows things in a totally different light. This relates to your argument on the podcast that we were “Sweden” before we went into lockdown. There is no space in this box. Please email me & I will expand.

  6. Perhaps the journalist misunderstood what he learned in his philosophy studies. It is “I think, therefore I am”, not “I bitch, therefore I am”. Stick to metaphysics and epistemology and leave the medicine and epidemiology to those who know what they’re talking about.

  7. Doctors the world over are beginning to join forces to collectively object against lockdown, the wearing of masks, spreading of fear and the collateral damage of Covid-19. This is an illness that is no worse than the seasonal flu, it needs no vaccine but requires the usual care for those with weakened immune systems. The WHO has been spreading false information which governments have accepted as the truth. Doctors who point this out on the social media have their posts removed from youTube, FB etc. This is sinister. Not sure about South Africa but in some first world countries doctors report they are forced to record Covid as the cause of death, even though it was not. They are also instructed not to resuscitate. There is consensus that the death toll ascribable to Covid is much much lower than what has been recorded. Also, that the fear which is created must pave the way for world wide acceptance of the idea that everybody should be vaccinated againdt Covid. The vaccine WILL, according to a large group of doctors, cause millions of deaths. Vaccines research does not follow the scientific method, contains animal organs and human fetal material as well as a wide range of toxins including dangerous virusses. All of this can be easily verified.

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