Drakeford wrong – no clear evidence restrictions led to better outcomes than England

When announcing new restrictions in Wales from Boxing Day, Mark Drakeford misled the public when claiming the new Omicron variant was “probably that it’s just as severe as any other form would be”. There was clear evidence from other countries this was not the case, but this did not stop the First Minister from making such a statement. In a recent briefing, I believe Mark Drakeford is wrong again, as there is no clear evidence restrictions led to better outcomes than England

Bold statements from the First Minister

In his latest media briefing, Mark Drakeford stood up and presented data from the ONS, which led to the following statements:

“What the actual figures show and what that ONS slide I think showed very directly is that the measures we took in Wales were both necessary and effective.”

“The actions we have taken in Wales to flatten the curve to bring it to an end more quickly, I think have paid real dividend here and thoroughly justify the actions that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have taken.”

So what does the data actually show and is the First Minister correct in his assertions?

ONS Infection Survey

The data cited by Mark Drakeford comes from the ONS Infection Survey which selects households at random and incentivises them through vouchers to take part in Covid-19 testing. It can help understand the underlying prevalence of the virus across the community. As it only selects a sample of individuals, there is a margin of error within the data. The ONS points out in the publication “Because of the relatively smaller number of tests in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland in our sample… results should be interpreted with caution”.

Having pointed at the caveats with the data, let’s look at what’s happened across the four UK nations since the end of November. Over recent weeks, the percentage of the population testing positive for Covid-19 has risen most across England. So is the First Minister correct to say when using this data that the devolved measures have been effective?

Wales performed no better than some English regions

Well, England is a much larger nation than the devolved countries, consisting of nine regions. If we plot the trend in Wales alongside the different regions, we see the situation in the South West, South East, and East of England has been better than Wales. Remember, these three regions did not have the restrictions that the devolved nations put in place.

Closure of nightclubs in France

Outside of the UK, restrictions vary for different countries, but one restriction brought into Wales on Boxing Day was the closure of nightclubs. France closed nightclubs much earlier than Wales and cases continue to rise and are significantly higher than we have seen in the UK.

Conclusion – statements from the First Minister misleading

Looking at the situation across different parts of the UK where there are different measures in place, there is no clear evidence the restrictions of the devolved nations were more effective than in England.

The spread of Covid is complex and its far too simple to claim some measures worked, especially when looking at the evidence in proper detail. In fact, some restrictions in Wales may have had a detrimental effect, with restrictions on fans watching games outdoors, potentially pushing them indoors to watch in clubhouses. Also, you can only meet six people in a hospitality venue but have up to 30 around your home which will no doubt damage venues and increase house parties.

My advice – if Mark Drakeford puts up a slide at any of his briefings, treat it with caution for two reasons. He is clearly out of his depth in interpreting data and has repeatedly got things wrong.

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Post image courtesy of Turf Creative.