French Quarantine is Using a Sledgehammer to Crack a Nut

I have written an op ed for today’s Telegraph criticising the Government’s decision to add France to the quarantine list.

On July 25, the French Government changed the rules on testing. Hitherto, the only way to avoid paying for a standard PCR test, in which your nose and throat are swabbed, was to get a prescription from your doctor.

But after the rule change, anyone could get a test free of charge. Not surprisingly, the number of people getting tested jumped – more than 600,000 people in the past week – and case numbers duly increased.

We’ve seen exactly the same pattern in parts of the UK: community testing increases and there’s a corresponding rise in recorded infections.

A half-way competent government would look at the testing data and contextualise it. You don’t need a degree in maths to compare the rise in the number of cases with the rise in the number of tests. Is the percentage in both cases the same? If so, you probably don’t have much to worry about.

Unfortunately, the geniuses at the head of our Government seem unable to do this. Instead, they apparently look at the raw case data and fly into a blind panic.

According to ministerial statements, at least, that appears to be what’s behind the last-minute decision to remove France from the “Green List” of countries you’re allowed to visit without having to quarantine on return.

There’s precious little evidence that France is currently in the midst of a “second wave”. On the contrary, if you look at Covid-19 hospitalisations, the number has remained largely stable for the past month.

In the comments beneath the piece, which are generally favourable, some have questioned whether the Government really is failing to contextualise the data. Isn’t it looking at the number of infected people per 100,000 in different countries and basing its decision on that? The answer is yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s contextualising the data.

Take the data for France from Our World in Data. It has a population: 66.9 million. In the week ending August 7th, there were 539,102 tests of which 9.060 were positive. This gives a positivity rate of 1.7% (539,102 divided by 9,060) and a cases per 100,000 of 13.5 (calculated by dividing 66.9 million by 9,060).

For the week ending August 14th, the number of tests is so far unknown but 13,732 were positive. So the positivity rate is unknown and the cases per 100,000 is 20.5. That’s the number the Government is basing the decision to remove France from the “Green List” on, not the positivity rate. Indeed, if the number of tests last week increased by a greater percentage than the number of positives, the positivity rate will be the same; if the percentage increase in testing was higher, the positivity rate will have declined, indicating a decline in the prevalence of the virus rather than a rise. To assume the number of cases per 100,000 has increased based on positive test results and nothing else is to fail to contextualise the data.

Worth reading in full, obviously, if you can get past the paywall.

Why is Basel Airport on the Quarantine List?

A reader has flagged up the latest bit of lunacy from the Government.

Last night at 23:16, the UK Government advised that effective from today, i.e. 44 minutes warning, anyone arriving from Switzerland’s Basel EuroAirport will have to self-isolate, because “you will transit France and therefore will be required to self-isolate on your return to the UK”.

Clearly, some idiot has just looked at Google Maps and concluded that the airport is physically located in France, which is correct. However, access to the airport terminal from Basel, which in exclusively in Switzerland, is via a fenced-off road corridor, providing Swiss access to the airport without having to enter France.

So when my partner lands here and comes to stay with me, she and I will have to lock ourselves away for two weeks, regardless that I was exposed to the virus in March and still had borderline but significant antibodies in early and late June.

This is good example of what I call the “collapsing skyscraper” syndrome. You’re falling through a collapsing skyscraper and every time you think you’ve finally reached solid ground, the floor gives way again and you start falling again. The Government’s incompetence is bottomless.

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