The Great British Data Off shows UK Covid cases down 70%

By Ian Silvera, Account Director

As a good chianti pairs perfectly with steak, Covid-19 related figures should be matched with a generous dollop of data hygiene, preferably after desert, so as to avoid any numbers-related indigestion. 

This menu should especially be adopted in the dining rooms of the UK, where testing (for the virus and after it) is well behind schnitzel-loving Germany and the apple-pie adoring United States. These two nations, in the British government’s defence, have major private testing companies. The UK does not.

An innovation to fill Britain’s statistical void – at least double the size of the ginormous Yorkshire puddings your local gastropub used to cook – was unveiled by King’s College London in March. 

The King’s tracker, developed alongside Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, the National Institute of Health Research Guy’s and St Thomas’ Biomedical Research Centre and healthcare start-up ZOE Global LTD, has had an impressive two million downloads and has started to show a significant downward trend.

Our own stat-man Dan Clay, Managing Partner, Newgate Research, said: “In the absence of widespread, standardised testing, organisations across the UK, US and Australia leveraging technology to track COVID-19 symptoms via citizen-led apps is the best current way to estimate the real-time spread of Covid.”

This sample predicts that just over 580,000 people had symptoms of the virus on Wednesday, representing a 70% drop from the predicted peak of over 2,000,000 on April 1. 

The good news is that the two million user base is well over the typical sample size (1,000 to 2,000 people) that pollsters use.  However, there are some doubts about how representative the data is. As the British Polling Council puts it: has the soup been well stirred? King’s College London itself has noted that young people are more likely to use the app, while older, less digitally literate citizens may never have even heard of it.

Another issue is that the symptoms being tracked are broad and match up with other illnesses, including the common cold and influenza. Bearing in mind that we have just passed flu season (December to March), it is reasonable to ask what impact this has had on the data and what effects social distancing has had.

“While there are understandable issues with using this in lieu of tests for COVID-19 (notably representativeness, issues with self-reporting and symptoms being reflective of a much wider range of health conditions), the number of people regularly using the app (over 800,000) enables us to generalise the reductions reported with a high degree of confidence to the population at large,” Dan added.

The app’s findings, then, are analogous to artificial flavourings – they’re not the real thing, but they probably give you a realistic flavour of our fight against CV.