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What forces Covid into reverse? To many, the obvious answer is lockdown. Cases were surging right up until the start of the three lockdowns, we’re told. It’s often said that all else failed. The Prime Minister said on Tuesday that lockdown, far more than vaccines, explains the fall in hospitalisations, deaths and infections. But how sure are we that only lockdown caused these falls — in the first, second and third wave? Or were other interventions, plus people’s spontaneous reactions to rising cases, enough to get R below one?

In a peer-reviewed paper now published in Biometrics, I find that, in all three cases, Covid-19 levels were probably falling before lockdown. A separate paper, with colleague Ernst Wit, comes to the same conclusion for the first two lockdowns, by the alternative approach of re-doing Imperial College’s major modelling study of the epidemic in 2020. In light of this, the Imperial College claim that new infections were surging right up until lockdown one — causing about 20,000 avoidable deaths — seems rather questionable.

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