Lost in a Wilderness of Models

Last Friday’s Daily Telegraph had a curious story (paywalled, so no link) by reporter Anna Caldwell.  Here is an extract (emphasis added):

The latest health modelling, held at the highest levels of the NSW Government, shows that on our current trajectory virus cases will not peak until sometime between November and February.

 The theory in the modelling is that we have been so successful in suppressing the spread of COVID-19 that we have elongated the tail of this virus.

On current modelling, that so-called “peak” in November would only see upwards of 500 people needing ICU beds. 

It’s a dramatic improvement on the do-nothing but tell people to wash their hands approach, which the modelling says would have swamped our health system with 4500 people needing intensive care by July when we only had 1100 beds. 

It’s also an improvement on the scenario we faced by late March when we’d simply decided to stop mass gatherings but not yet implemented the stay-home edict and shut down restaurants and cafes. Under that scenario 2500 people would have needed ICU by August. 

Again, this would have swamped our health system and we would not have been able to care for everyone who needed it. 

The current restrictions push the peak back so that just 500 people need the top level of care by the end of the year.

The reference to modelling being held “at the highest levels of the NSW government”, implies this is Macquarie Street modelling. I can’t find any reference to it, which suggests it is being kept under wraps. We’re all in this together, we are told without respite, but we’re also not to be trusted with information and analyses our masters orchestrating this escalating destruction of the economy believe will upset the simple-minded souls whose taxes pay their salaries.

The latest publicly available Commonwealth Government modelling was released on April 6. It includes this disclaimer, prominently displayed in its own cartouche:

There are still things we don’t know. Modelling does not predict the future. It is a tool to explore scenarios and the impact of actions we might take.

It models three scenarios:

1/ an uncontrolled outbreak

2/ the effect of appropriate quarantine and isolation measures

3/ the additional impact of social distancing.

Got the picture?  Don’t put too much reliance on the model, which is best summarised by a graph showing peaks as follows:

Uncontrolled:  35,000 ICU beds at the 17-week mark (April?)

Quarantine & Isolation:  16,000 ICU beds at the 26-week mark (July?)

Quarantine, Isolation & Social Distancing: 5,000 ICU beds at the 43-week mark (Nov?)

The model summary also states:

The modelling up until now has looked at hypothetical scenarios and focused on health system capacity. The next phase is to put Australian data into the model and see how it aligns to our actual experience.  As more ‘real’ data is put into the model its accuracy improves.

In other words, short on data and, as a consequence, hopelessly unreliable.  No date is given for when the updated modelling might be available. By way of contrast, the model cited by The Telegraph‘s Caldwell predicts:

Uncontrolled: 4,500 ICU beds by July

Quarantine & Isolation:  2,500 ICU beds by August

Quarantine, Isolation & Social Distancing: 500 ICU beds by November

Even allowing for the fact that it apparently refers only to NSW, it is considerably less alarmist than the original Australia-wide modelling. So, is this the ‘next phase’ modelling referred to above?  If so, there are key questions: Why is it apparently the preserve of the “highest levels of the NSW government”?  What is its provenance?  Is it being used as a basis for planning by the NSW government?  Does it have any standing within the Commonwealth Government?  Has it been made available to the National Cabinet?

Whatever the answers, it does not appear to resemble anything remotely like the real-world outcome we have seen, in which the peak of infections has already been relegated to the past. It can only be predicated on the ‘second wave’ theory – the one  you can’t kill with a stick.

At this point, let me digress slightly and talk about the term “social distancing”, since it is a critical element in the modelling equation.  I have observed elsewhere that I find the term more than uncomfortably Orwellian. It is a lot like its close cousin, “climate change”, which was Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton’s alarmist preoccupation until the Wuhan virus came to town, in that its bland face conceals a multitude of sins. Ask ten Australians what ‘social distancing’ means and nine of them will tell you ‘keep 1.5m away from other people’. The tenth will tell you it includes closing parks, beaches, pubs, cafes, air travel, businesses in general, not going for a ride in your car, not visiting your family as well as a host of other, previously unimaginable curtailments.

The point of the above rant is that if we are going to continue with this exercise of modelling, given that quarantine and isolation are pretty well defined and would be included in any scenario, it would be necessary to refine ‘social distancing’ to present a variety of options and model those.  The model that Caldwell quotes is meaningless unless it defines what it means by ‘social distancing’.  ‘Social distancing’ meant one thing on March 18 and something different seven days later.  It means one thing in Queensland, something different in Victoria.

Caldwell goes on to say (emphasis added):

The truth is this: we now face a deadly and delicate highwire act to bring forward the peak of this virus yet not let the thing run wild.

The Government believes we must begin to slowly and ever-so-gently wind back restrictions, but knows full well that every restriction tinkered with will see more people get sick, put more people in ICU and, horribly, see more people die.

At the moment, we are right to be stunned and thrilled by the extraordinary low case numbers we are seeing across the country.

In NSW, we had just five new cases yesterday. Other states had zero.

While the Australian death toll sits at 75, Belgium is at 6200, NYC 11,000, Germany 5000 and France 21,000.

This is not because we are beating the virus. It’s because we are hiding from it.

Some believe that this stunning ­reduction in cases means we are in striking distance of eradicating the virus.

We can hope. 


Knowledge is power, and ­increased testing will mean we will know when the beast is stirring and where.

The challenge now is to get this gentle wind-back right in a way that doesn’t send our problem skyrocketing like other nations.

Border controls will stand us in good stead. But complacency will be our enemy.

While some mistakenly look to our low case numbers and believe we have overcome the biggest hurdle, the opposite is more likely true.

Our challenge is only just ­beginning.

She seems to be saying that even if we keep current restrictions in place until November we will still see 500 critical patients at that time.  If you extrapolate Caldwell’s figure across the country, that would be some 2000 ICU beds required.  This is completely at odds with Commonwealth government rhetoric.  And that of the NSW government for that matter.

What is going on here?   At the very least, this conflicting information will certainly confuse Daily Telegraph readers, — aren’t we all of us confused enough already? — and make it even harder for governments to cut through if, and when, they attempt to articulate some concrete and comprehensive plans to get us back to normal.

26 thoughts on “Lost in a Wilderness of Models

  • john.singer says:

    Models are made by Mathematicians and Statisticians when they lack sufficient data to make a decision.

  • Citizen Kane says:

    Today we hear that an 89 year old resident of the Newmarch House nursing home facility in NSW died overnight from the Wuhan virus. The 7th elderly victim of this one facility. If these residents are acutely ill with the virus why are they not at the nearest ICU facility on respirators etc. Or is it the case that these chronically ill patients were perhaps dying of other ailments and have concurrently tested positive to COViD-19? In other words they have died with the virus not from the virus. Governments and Public Health authorities seem he’ll bent on maximising the viruses mortality statistics as much as possible to justify their derailing of the Australian economy and normal societal functioning.

  • ianl says:

    We have been painted into a corner. No one has any idea how long it will take for the paint to dry, or if a second coat is needed anyway.

    Keeping international borders closed until … what ? According to Nova, until other countries are “clean”, or the virus mutates into a less lethal strain, or vaccine, or … waiting for Godot, it is. At this stage, we may be able to get stitched in together with Adern, as exciting as that is.

    As is outstandingly normal, Aus authorities refuse to supply us with complete, hard information, be it accumulating statistical data or even the *uncensored* code for the bluetooth application (this was promised and then reneged on – golly, a surprise). [Singapore published their complete code]

    A now longstanding practice of misleading information from the ever despicable MSM: daily raw death numbers (scary bear now), rather than deaths per million which is the honest way to monitor a pandemic.

    I simply want complete honesty in information supplied and then published without tainting from MSM agendas. No hope, of course we know that.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Citizen Kane, that is a great point, i.e why were they not in hospital, that had not occurred to me. Did they just develop symptoms one minute and keel over the next?

  • en passant says:

    Five people tested positive yesterday. I can feel the panic rising among the 25,000,000 of us in the Orwellian Totalitarian Oz Gulag.
    A friend of mine held a Dinner Party last night. I am thinking of snitching on him as I was not invited …

    • Professor Bunyip says:

      The retired blogger Professor Bunyip stirred from the murky depths of his billabong last week and sent this note to Quadrant Online. I’m pasting it here for the information of those curious about just how far and how broadly Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ agents are interpreting his instruction to keep the populace in line.– rf

      The Bunyip writes:

      ‘Last week as an experiment I called Premier Dan’s dobber line (13 14 44) and told the voice on the other end that I had just returned from a Subway franchise, where I heard a fellow customer mouthing off while I waited for my sandwich to be built. I told my hotline interlocutor that this “anti-social hooligan element” was loudly saying the Premier is both a crook and an incompetent, a man whose Keystone Kops couldn’t even frame a cardinal properly, and the fact that he won’t reveal the terms of the Belt-and-Road agreement he has struck with Beijing suggests he should register as a foreign agent.

      Well, the fellow on the phone was more than interested. He said those words “could be construed as a threat against the Premier” and asked me to stay on the line while he transferred me to a detective who would take down details of the hooligan’s licence plate etc.

      Not wanting to break the law and waste VicPol’s time (surely there are speeding fines to be handed out) by formally filing a false report, I rang off at that point. But the lesson could not be more clear: watch your liberties, one and all. The person presiding over Victoria does not respect them in the least.”

  • Guido Negraszus says:

    Citizen Kane. My exact thinking too. Why are we not getting this vital detail? How many people who passed away were actually already seriously ill and going to die in the very near future? They won’t tell us. God forbid people could become more informed and potentially doubt the measures taking by governments.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Thinking more about it, did the news reports say they died in the nursing home or simply that they came from the nursing home?

  • Citizen Kane says:

    News reports, like many supposed COVID-19 involving nursing homes previously, clearly state they passed away at the facility. Same phenomenon has been rife in the UK.

  • March says:

    So good to hear from Bunyip!

    Peter, Thanks for delving into those dodgy model outputs. It’s remarkable how shallow they are and how quickly they failed to live up to reality. Yet somehow they continue to be relied upon without a single politician calling them out for the utter rubbish that they are.

  • Peter Smith says:

    Models were spectacularly wrong (and divergent) going into the madness (though, of course, the modellers deny this) and now they are being rejigged to be spectacularly wrong as we try to get out of the madness. And all the while politicians are using their particular model to inform their decisions. What can possibly go wrong? Well, it’s already gone wrong if you have been thrown out of work while others posing the same risks are still employed, or if you have been denied elective surgery or a procedure to check if indeed that lump is malignant, or if you have been frightened off taking your child for a vaccination, or….and so on. Now politicians are about to discover the pitfalls of opening up what they unwisely closed down and with only those dodgy models to rely on. I almost feel sorry for them.

  • pgang says:

    Good to see there’s still some Bunyipitude still around.

  • pgang says:

    “I almost feel sorry for them’.

    No you don’t.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Citizen Kane, you are right. Just watched a news bulletin and they are dying in the home. What the hell is going on?

  • Citizen Kane says:

    A political class incapable of leading and a over zealous health bureaucracy craving hero status. Yet they cannot see the forest damage through the viral trees.

  • pgang says:

    Try an internet news check on ‘Bolsonaro’ to see how depraved the establishment has become. The media are after this guy in the same way they are after Trump because he dares to defy their make-believe view of the world. You won’t find a single article listed that articulates a sensible coverage of what’s going on there (the internet only brings up left news links anyway).
    The fact is of course that when all of this nonsense is over, Brazil is going to be the only nation coming out of it relatively unscathed.

  • Rob Brighton says:

    @Peter Smith. https://www.ft.com/content/6bd88b7d-3386-4543-b2e9-0d5c6fac846c
    That article outlines some interesting data that may be of use to you in your efforts to understand what is happening.
    It seems possible that our lack of testing has hidden the actual death toll if this article is to be believed.
    Average death tolls before and after are displayed showing huge spikes in the overall death tolls. Some of the more spectacular rises are Austria + 60% Italy +90% and the average over the 14 countries examined showed a rise of 49%
    Australia was not on the list, the article is from London FT and therefore Euro-centric.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Rob Brighton, an interesting article which suggests that, not only are there more deaths, but also that the spread of the disease is much wider than thought, Following on from that, it is likely that those countries will have herd immunity thrust upon them earlier than they might otherwise have thought. But I doubt that is the case in Australia.


    The bells, the bells, The models, the models. I feel like there’s a hunch comming on. Time for another belt of C2H5OH.

  • Rob Brighton says:

    @Peter OBrien I agree entirely. What I find somewhat interesting is the reliability of this stat seems to be less open to manipulations spoken of where anyone infected by Covid is assumed to have died from it.
    It would be interesting to find out AU stats but given the small number of deaths attributed maybe it would follow.
    Either way, it would tell us much about Australia’s position. I am still trying to find it, my research skills are obviously lacking.
    @Pgang. It must be wonderful to be so sure of your infallibility. Or perhaps it is just sport, either way stay well and keep on trolling, love your work big fella.

  • Rob Brighton says:

    Peter OBrien. I misnamed you in the article where I referred to Peter Smith. Excuse my somewhat loose marbles.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Citizen Kane, congratulations. Your observation was ahead of the curve. This is the text of a letter I sent to the Australian (not published) based on your observation:

    “With all these ICU beds left vacant, why are vulnerable people dying in nursing homes? Four in one night at Newmarch. Why were not the most vulnerable e.g those over, say, 75 and with co-morbidities, evacuated to hospitals as soon as the outbreak was identified?”

    But now the question is being asked all over.

  • pgang says:

    Strewth! Don’t tell me Satire is another victim of the Wuhan panicdemic.

  • Citizen Kane says:

    PO’B, an interesting article out of the Washington Post in last 24 hours (https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/antibody-tests-support-whats-been-obvious-covid-19-is-much-more-lethal-than-flu/2020/04/28/2fc215d8-87f7-11ea-ac8a-fe9b8088e101_story.html
    ) stating that New York Governor Cuomo has said earlier this week that serological antibody tests now confirm that 25% (roughly 2.5 million) of that cities population has been exposed to the WuFlu. Not a single skerrick of coverage in our local media. Of course, as you can see by the heading (and the subsequent article itself) the Washington Post has put is usual leftist spin on the result.

  • pgang says:

    CK I won’t waste time reading Wapo garbage, but from the link it appears that they confuse the word ‘lethal’ with ‘infectious’.
    In fact if it is so highly infectious (not at all surprising given its relationship to the common cold), then it is far less lethal than the flu. Which is what we have both expected, and experienced. This explains the danger to the elderly. It’s extremely difficult to prevent someone from catching it.
    So we go back to Peter Smith being right all along.

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