Is the pandemic over?

England’s approach to COVID restrictions this January is very different to last January. It’s also worlds away from how European neighbours are reacting.

Many countries are now imposing tighter travel restrictions, and implementing lockdowns, while England (and to some degree the UK) is moving in the opposite direction.

For example, the “red list” of countries has been scrapped, as has the need to get a pre-departure test when travelling. Isolation periods have also been reduced and were masks not mandatory in indoor public spaces, you could be mistaken for thinking the pandemic was over.

England’s libertarian approach comes as the country’s infection rates hit an all time high. One in 15 people in the UK had COVID in the last week of December. Not since the pandemic started, or in the last year, in the last week! 🤯

So why is the UK making these decisions?

Do the statistics offer any justification for these changes?

Last year I posted several articles looking at the UK’s COVID-19 data and exploring the effectiveness of vaccination. Things have changed a lot since, so here’s an update.

UK COVID-19 Stats

The UK is now 90% vaccinated. Nine in 10 people aged 12 and over have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Around 80% are “fully vaccinated” having had two doses, and around 60% have also had a booster (or third) jab. 💉

While hospitalisations started to rise quite rapidly at the end of the December, they’re also still nowhere near to the 40k numbers we saw last January.

Why is this?

There are many reasons, but the two biggest seem to be: Vaccinations and Omicron.


Vaccination has undoubtedly helped to weaken the link between infections and deaths. Despite there being around 3 million more infections in December 2021 than January 2021, there were around 30k fewer COVID related deaths.

This chart shows that link between cases and deaths.

December 2021 COVID-19 cases aligned to deaths

You can see last year in weeks 44 and 45 (January 2021) cases and deaths hit their peak – I’ve used this as the baseline maximum, 100%. Until week ~60 (May 2021) cases and deaths were fairly well aligned, cases went up, deaths went up. However that link has been slowly weakening. Since May 2021, cases have risen and fallen, with deaths hardly moving, and that’s in no small part thanks to vaccinations. By May 2021, around 1 in 3 people were fully vaccinated and 2 in 3 had had at least one dose.

In week 95 (the last full week I have data for) deaths were around 11% of January 2021 levels, while cases were almost 190%. The virus no longer has the same ability to kill as it once did.

N.B. Cases shown aren’t positive tests, but the ONS infection study estimates. Deaths are those within 28 days of a positive test, by date of death. Deaths have been moved forward by one week, to better align them to cases.


The other contributing factor is Omicron. In the last month, UK COVID cases have been rising exceedingly fast. This is in part due to the more infectious Omicron strain of the virus.

5th of January 2022 COVID-19 variants by countryAt the start of December 2021, around 1% of UK cases were the Omicron variant, with Delta making up the vast majority of all cases. Last week, 96% of all cases were Omicron. That’s insane growth! Omicron took over as the dominant strain in around 2 weeks, almost wiping Delta infections out in the space of a month.

You can explore this more with this fantastic tool by Our World In Data – the University of Oxford.

Omicron appears to be easier to spread, more dominant, but less deadly. The levels of Omicron in the UK are surely also helping to keep deaths low – compared with if all cases were the Delta strain.

Do the statistics justify fewer restrictions?

So do the statistics give us confidence that England’s approach at the moment is well founded? To a degree, yes. It’s unclear if the decisions have been made based on science, or politics, but so far at least, England’s libertarian approach looks like it offers a good balance between freedom, autonomy and safety.

The more cases there are, the greater the risk of mutation. That could be seen as a concern, but mutation lead to Omicron defeating Delta, which (so far) hasn’t turned out to be a bad thing.

Is the COVID-19 pandemic over?

With more global cases than ever before, it’s undeniable that COVID-19 is still very much a pandemic. But, if we’re able to live with the virus in general circulation, without mass deaths or hospitalisations (just like we do with flu each winter) there is hope, that we may be nearing the beginning of the end of the period where COVID ruled our lives.

Live in hope. ☺️

A Look at the Green Labs NL Project

Last week I raised a few questions about the kind of futures are envisaged for the planet from a rather argumentative standpoint: what will the political implication be if we take the technological fix approach to defending the climate?

Today I want to cast some light on a project that is asking another related question: what are the environmental consequences of actually carrying out scientific research?

This question moves beyond the idea that science and technological development might be able to help in reaching predetermined environmental standards (think about the Paris accord) or aims (UN Sustainable Development Goals) as it questions the research practices that might lead to this.

How can scientists make their research greener?

A small group of scientists in the Netherlands aim to investigate this question. They call themselves Green Labs NL.

From the website:

Green labs NL was started in 2021 by a few members of the Dutch Scientific Community who realized they shared a passion for making their science more sustainable.

The group aim to build a wider community in The Netherlands to help encourage individual scientists, lab groups and whole institutes to go greener when it comes to how we use our lab spaces, and the way we do science. The platform can aid by sharing resources and information, but also by bringing other like-minded scientists together.

It is run by scientists, and is fully non-profit. There is no CEO, CSO, … It is kept alive by the scientific community! 

This small team of scientists (4 people) have launched a really interesting blog and just held their first online Green Labs NL network meeting (in English).  The website also hosts a forum and a useful links section, one of which leads to Harvard University’s Green Labs website, so they are not alone in this movement.

This is an exciting development and I will certainly follow their work, and hope that some of our Technology Bloggers readers might do the same.

Facebook’s Social Research Experiment

Facebook are back in the news again, this time for conducting research without the consent of their users. Although maybe that is a false statement, users may well have signed those rights away without realizing too.

All Facebook did was to “deprioritizing a small percentage of content in News Feed (based on whether there was an emotional word in the post) for a group of people (about 0.04% of users, or 1 in 2500) for a short period (one week, in early 2012). Nobody’s posts were “hidden,” they just didn’t show up on some loads of Feed. Those posts were always visible on friends’ timelines, and could have shown up on subsequent News Feed loads”. This is the explanation offered by the author of the report about the experiment. Read the full text here.

Simply speaking they wanted to adjust the type of information a user was exposed to to see if it effected their mood. So if a user receives lots of positive news, what will happen to them? What will they post about?

Some studies have suggested that lots of Facebook use tends to lead to people feeling bad about themselves. The logic is simple, all my friends post about how great their lives are and about the good side we might say. I who have a life that has both ups and downs are not exposed to the downs, so I feel that I am inadequate.

This sounds reasonable. I am not a Facebook user but the odd messages I get are rarely about arguing with partners, tax problems, getting locked out of the house, flat tyres, missed meetings or parking tickets. I presume Facebook users do not suffer from these issues, they always seem to be smiling.

So in order to test the hypothesis a little manipulation of the news feed. More positive or more negative words, and then look to see how the posts are effected. The theory above does not seem to hold water as a statistic however, although bearing in mind the methodology etc (and the conductor) I take the claims with a pinch of salt. More positive words tend to lead to more positive posts in response.

Hardly rocket science we might say.

I have a degree in sociology, an MA in Applied Social research and work in the field. Conducting experiments of this type is not allowed in professional circles, it is considered unethical, there is no informed consent, rights are infringed upon and the list goes on. What if somebody did something serious during the experiment?

Of course “The reason we did this research is because we care about the emotional impact of Facebook and the people that use our product”.

If readers are interested in looking at a few other fun experiments that might be considered ethically dubious I can offer a few. Check out the Stanley Milgram experiment, where people administered (False) electric shocks to other people who got the answers to their questions wrong. Yale University here, not a fringe department of Psychology. Researchers were investigating reactions to authority, and the results are very interesting, but you couldn’t do it today.

Or how about the so-called Monster study. The Monster Study was a stuttering experiment on 22 orphan children in Davenport, Iowa, in 1939 conducted by Wendell Johnson at the University of Iowa. After placing the children in control and experimental groups, Research Assistant Mary Tudor gave positive speech therapy to half of the children, praising the fluency of their speech, and negative speech therapy to the other half, belittling the children for every speech imperfection and telling them they were stutterers. Many of the normal speaking orphan children who received negative therapy in the experiment suffered negative psychological effects and some retained speech problems during the course of their life. The University of Iowa publicly apologized for the Monster Study in 2001.

Terrible as these experiments may sound, they were conducted in the name of science. Their results may have proved useful. Facebopok (along with 23andME and other commercial entities) are behaving in the way they are because they want to make more money, their interest is solely there (even if they dress it up as better user experience). And in the case of Facebook they have access to 1.3 billion users, and mandate to do whatever they like with them.