Should we be panicking again?
3,105 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in the UK – and the number seems to be rising rapidly, having ticked over 1,000 only a few weeks ago.
Meanwhile, coronavirus is spreading fast in Spain and France, and we are once again hearing dreadful stories about hospitals being overwhelmed with cases in certain hotspots.
We should be cautious and careful and we should brace ourselves for more cases and, alas, more deaths.
It might seem implausible but back in March many people were sceptical that Britain could follow in the footsteps of Spain and Italy.
Yet we did, with infections and deaths rising on more or less the same trajectory – only with a two or three week delay.
The same is happening this time around.
Cases in the UK seem to be following precisely the same path as we’re seeing in France and Spain.
They too rose from having 1,000 to 3,000 cases in about 30 days (actually, Spain was a little quicker, but the rate was pretty similar).
And in much the same way as France and Spain were at 3,000 cases a few weeks ago, the chances are that the UK will be at 10,000 or so cases, as Spain is today, within a few weeks.
That, after all, is what happened last time around and, so far at least, the data suggests we are following a similar path.
But think for a moment about those numbers. They are rising, yes, but they are not multiplying at quite the same speed as in the spring.
Back then, deaths (the best metric for the spread of the disease back then) were doubling every three or four days. This time around cases are doubling roughly every 10 days – perhaps every 15.
Those differences matter enormously, and this brings us to the second lesson: don’t forget the power of exponential growth.
Both of the above growth rates are types of exponential growth, yet even small differences like this very quickly add up.
Put it this way: it’s akin to the difference between the spread of the disease in Germany during the spring and the spread of the disease in Britain and Italy.
And right now what we’re seeing in Spain, France and the UK looks a lot more like the former than the latter.
Now it is early days and it’s worth being cautious – very cautious – since these numbers may soon change.