James O'Brien's response to "deeply disturbing" lack of local Covid-19 data

1 July 2020, 15:23 | Updated: 1 July 2020, 16:21

James O'Brien's response to the "deeply disturbing" gap between the nationally reported infection rates and the local infection rates, which make up to 95% of new cases, that are not being reported.

Financial Times data journalist John Burn-Murdoch has found significant gaps in the reporting of infection data for UK cities and regions. The government data only contains information on hospital tests (Pillar 1) and not information about tests being carried out in local communities (Pillar 1).

Mr Burn-Murdoch explained to James, "The issue here is this distinction between Pillar 1 and Pillar 2. Pillar 1 testing is the testing that's done in a healthcare setting, so for people who have presented at hospital and NHS staff, for example.

"Pillar 2 is the wider public testing, for anyone who's been to a drive through testing centre or had a testing kit sent to them at home for them to return."

He continued that the key issue is that "Pillar 2 testing now accounts for between 80-95%, depending on where you are in the country."

James surmised, "That figure is staggering because it means...as many as 90% of new cases of new cases will be missing from the data that the local authorities are working with. Suddenly the confusion in Leicester makes a lot more sense."

Mr Burn-Murdoch said the local data will be somewhere; "Public Health England and the regional bodies of PHE do have this data for individual local authorities including the Pillar 2 data.

"The problem is it that doesn't necessarily mean that local mayors, local councils or local MPs have that data. I've spoken to people at Public Health England and they say it really comes down to how well joined up the different departments are in any given area."

James said, "And that is why, not to labour the point because it is deeply deeply disturbing, more than 90% of new cases in Leicester recently would be under Pillar 2 and yet these numbers are not public."

Mr Burn-Murdoch pointed out the reverse almost happened in Doncaster with the situation not being as severe as first thought because Pillar 2 data actually showed cases were generally dropping.

"Whether it's causing people to be too relaxed or too alarmed, it's just causing these huge problems everywhere and no one knows whether they can trust the numbers they're seeing."