Statistics Watchdog Criticises Government Over Lockdown Graph

Statistics Watchdog Criticises Government Over Lockdown Graph
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference announcing new restrictions to help combat the CCP virus outbreak, at 10 Downing Street in London, on Oct. 31, 2020. (Alberto Pezzali/Pool via Reuters)
Simon Veazey

The national watchdog on statistics has added its weight to growing criticism of how a potentially misleading graph was presented by the government to justify England's second national lockdown.

The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR), the regulatory arm of the UK Statistics Authority, said that more transparency was needed in the presentation of data around COVID-19 infections.
“I recognise the pressures faced by all those working on decisions related to coronavirus," the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, said in a statement. "But full transparency of data used to inform decisions is vital to public understanding and public confidence.”

The watchdog singled out the data modelling presented during the Oct. 31 press conference in which the national lockdown plans were announced.

During that announcement, graphs were shown displaying scenarios of deaths from the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus reaching 4,000 a day if unchecked by a second national lockdown. It was later revealed that those were already out-of-date modelling projections.
 The graph as presented on Oct. 31, 2020, during the prime minister's official briefing to the nation. (Screenshot via Downing Street)
The graph as presented on Oct. 31, 2020, during the prime minister's official briefing to the nation. (Screenshot via Downing Street)
"There are many models across government which are used primarily for operational purposes," the deputy director for regulation at the OSR, Mary Gregory, wrote in a blog post on the OSR website. "In cases where outputs from these models are quoted publicly it is our expectation that the associated information, including key assumptions, is also made available in an accessible and clear way. In the press conference on 31 October this was not the case."

The OSR said that the lack of transparency about data used during high-profile public briefings was undermining public trust in the data and creating more confusion.

They recommend the government publish all available information alongside any future briefings, including the methodology behind modelling.

Scientific advisers have defended their use of the models saying that they didn’t intend to frighten people and that the data was used in good faith.

They stressed the importance of six-week projections over longer-term scenarios, saying that the six-week forward projection suggested COVID hospitalisations would pass the first wave “towards the end of November”.

Criticism by MPs and Former Party Leaders

Some MPs criticised the government over the lack of transparency during the ramp-up to the vote on the lockdown in England.
Former Prime Minister Theresa May previously accused the government of choosing statistics to back up their plans, calling for them to publish the analysis that's driving the lockdown decision.

“It appears the decision to go towards this lockdown was partly, mainly, to some extent based on the prediction of 4,000 deaths a day,” May told the Commons during the debate on the lockdown measures.

“Yet if you look at the trajectory showing in that graph that went to 4,000 deaths a day, we would have reached 1,000 deaths a day by the end of October,” she said.

Like some other MPs, May also said that evidence showed that cases of the CCP virus were falling across all ages in some areas of local lockdown, saying that there hadn’t been enough analysis of the effectiveness of current three-tier measures.

She said that there also had not been enough analysis of the broader costs of lockdown measures, such as impact on other health conditions, suicides, mental health, domestic violence as well as to the economy.

The new measures restrict all but essential shopping in England, ban social mixing with more than one person from another household even outdoors, and will shut down pubs, restaurants, leisure centres, and gyms. Schools and colleges will remain open.

May was one of 53 Conservative MPs who defied the party whips and refused to endorse the plans, which were voted through by 512 lawmakers, including all Labour MPs.

In total, 21 Conservatives MPs abstained from the vote. Among the 32 Tory MPs voting “no” was another former party leader, Ian Duncan Smith.

Smith told MPs that evidence showed the spread of the CCP virus was already slowing and that the current local lockdowns had not been fully assessed.

He described as “appalling” the leak that set the government scrambling over the weekend into an early announcement of the nascent plans.

“Whoever did it should be sacked, strung up to dry,” he said.

The leak had “bounced” the government into a decision, he said. “I’d like to think that the government would have then spent its time investigating the data that was being presented to them that has now subsequently unravelled in the last few days.”

Simon Veazey is a UK-based journalist who has reported for The Epoch Times since 2006 on various beats, from in-depth coverage of British and European politics to web-based writing on breaking news.