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Coronavirus: Health expert criticises 'not useful' comparison between UK and Italy death rates

·3-min read
Foto Alfredo Falcone/LaPresse 23 Marzo 2020 Roma, Italia cronaca Emergenza COVID-19 (Coronavirus) a Roma. Nella foto: farmacisti a lavoroPhoto Alfredo Falcone/LaPresse March 23, 2020 Rome, Italy NewsCOVID-19 (Coronavirus) emergency a Rome. In the pic: pharmacists at work (La Presse/SIPA USA/PA Images)
A man visiting a pharmacy in Italy. (La Presse/SIPA USA/PA Images)

A health expert has hit out at comparisons between the UK and Italy’s death rates from coronavirus, claiming they are “not useful”.

Professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, University of Oxford, said the media was guilty of “over interpretation of a single day’s numbers of deaths”.

He described recent large daily increases as “very worrying but not a surprise” and said the “numbers are too small and there are too few data points” to make a direct comparison with Italy.

According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, as of Tuesday evening there have been a total of 6,820 confirmed deaths in Italy compared to 422 deaths in the UK.

A man wearing a face mask in London, the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A man wearing a face mask in London, the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown. (PA)

“The over interpretation of a single day’s numbers of deaths that we saw on Saturday whereby people used the figures to claim we will be in the same situation as Italy in two weeks is not useful as the numbers are too small and there are too few data points,” Professor Naismith said.

“We use trends because we know there are margins of error in any single day. What is important to study the trend, not to live on the emotional rollercoaster of daily updates.

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“In both Italy and the UK, until recently, the growth in number of cases and deaths appeared to follow the same 1.3 exponential growth and this has been true almost everywhere else.

“The way exponentials work is that it does not much matter about sampling in testing, you see the same rate of growth unless you keep changing your sampling method.

“The figures on the death rate in Italy, do not necessarily prove that there has been a sudden or continuing wholesale break down of their health services.

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“There is a tragedy in Italy and the strain on their hospitals and staff all too obvious. The growth in the number of deaths and cases have followed a very similar pattern from the outset.”

So far, the coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 382,000 people worldwide, with at least 16,500 deaths.

In Italy, Spain and France, the pandemic is pushing national health systems to their breaking points.

The outbreak has killed more than 6,000 Italians, the highest death toll of any country.

Officials said Monday the virus had claimed just over 600 more lives, down from 793 two days earlier, offering some glimmer of hope.

The risks remain for doctors, nurses and others on the frontlines; Italy has seen at least 18 doctors with the coronavirus die.

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