COVID-19 in Europe: A slow decline

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As we begin to see the first countries in Europe slowly ease lockdown restrictions, the broad European trend continues to be a slight reduction of cases and deaths from COVID-19. In the last week, the death toll across Europe has dropped around 6% compared to the week before. The number of confirmed cases is down around 20%, and even though the low number of cases reported on the 14th (representing those diagnosed on Easter Monday) is cause for suspicion of this being the true figure, the daily average is still around 13% lower when that date is excluded.

It is of course worth remembering that we will not see the effect of any change in restrictions for around 2–3 weeks after the change has taken place, as it can take an average of a week for symptoms to appear, and another week for symptoms to become bad enough to require hospitalisation.

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Italy introduced a minor lifting of lockdown restrictions this week, with smaller shops being allowed to open in some regions. The current lockdown is due to expire on 4 May, though it is likely that some measures will continue afterwards.

While we do see the number of cases and deaths continuing to decline, it’s declined much more slowly in the last week than it did the week before. Over the last week, we saw around 7% fewer deaths than the week before, though the week before that we saw that figure decline by 25%. The number of new cases is down around 10% over the last week, though again, that’s not as quick a decline as it was the week before (17%).

If the current rate of decline continues, then by the time the current lockdown expires on 4 May, the weekly number of new cases will be around half of its end-of-March peak.

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Spain has allowed some factory and construction workers to return to work this week, though most shops are still closed. Their lockdown is currently due to expire on 27 April, though it’s likely to be extended.

I suspect that the spike in new cases over the last couple of days is nothing more than compensation for the dip over the Easter weekend. Overall, the death toll in Spain continues to decline by around 20% a week. The number of new cases is also lower by around 17%, though that is a slightly slower decline than the week before (27%).

If the current rate of decline continues, then the number of new cases will be down around 50% from its peak over the next few days, with the number of deaths being 50% from its peak around the time the current lockdown expires.

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The UK made no changes to its restrictions this week, with the lockdown to be reviewed again on 7 May.

This comes as the UK begins to see signs that it may be past its peak. The seven-day moving average, which is somewhat of a lagging indicator, has been going down for the last 3–4 days, when both new cases and deaths are looked at. The death toll over the last week is around 5% higher than it was last week, but the number of new cases has dropped by around 2% last week compared to the week before.

Given we’ve seen two countries come down from their peaks in different ways, it’s difficult to say how quickly the UK will descend, or where it will be when its lockdown is up for review.

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Austria has allowed smaller shops to open this week, with all shops set to open on 2 May if the virus is under control then. They’ve also indicated that restaurants could open by mid-May, though this could be subject to restrictions.

The number of cases seen in Austria has been declining very rapidly, by around 50% a week for the past two weeks, and this is already down 80% from its end-of-March peak. The death toll in Austria is also lower this week for the first time, with around 25% fewer deaths in the last week than in the week prior, and is at around the level it was at the week before that.

The number of new cases and deaths is currently quite low, even when population is taken into account, so it’s unclear how much lower it has to go. But it is on track to have a lower average number of daily cases than it had when it went into lockdown just over a month ago.

It appears that Europe, overall, is past its worst in this pandemic, meaning that discussions about relaxing some lockdown restrictions are now set to be had across the continent. It will be a couple more weeks until we see what impact the relaxations already in place have on their respective countries’ curves, and whether it will be safe to lift any further. The balance will probably be about right when we see these curves being flat for a sustained period, and it will likely take some weeks and months before it is known exactly how to calibrate it.

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I am Joe. I am a techy at heart, a self-taught psephologist (political number cruncher), a pleasure cyclist, and someone who just calls things as he sees them.

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