Thursday’s figures confirm the bad situation we seem to be heading towards. The third wave of this second phase, as can be seen from the epidemic curve, is now the highest of the three so far. Not only that, but we cannot say whether it is close to peaking or whether it is heading towards higher values. The time series model shown here predicts 105 cases tomorrow so there does not seem to be a turning round the corner in sight, at least not from looking at the patterns set by these numbers.
But perhaps the best indicators of our situations are the stories behind the numbers. We have reached a record high of 1009 active cases. How many of these are hospitalised? How many are in Intensive Care? Is our health system coping or is it close to a crisis point?
What about the notorious R-factor? I have often written here that I think that this number is often over-emphasised. It is first of all an average over a heterogeneous population, and more importance should be given to localised sources of superspreading. Also, its value depends on the model being used to study the epidemic, including estimates for parameters such as the incubation period of the virus. In the case of Malta, any estimate of the R-factor will have gone up and down with the rise and fall of the daily new cases. However, a look at these fluctuations is useful to get an idea of how well we are performing. The third graphic today shows the fluctuations of an estimate of the R-factor in this second phase of our epidemic, assuming a mean incubation period of 5.5 days and a wide latitude on its uncertainty. The graph shows that we started with an R-factor of 3, which is a bit high but not unexpected at the start of a COVID-19 epidemic. There were two periods when this factor was less than 1, which is what we all would like it to be, but we now seem to be stuck with a value of around 1.54. But the periods when we had it down to less than 1 show that, even without complete lockdown, we can keep this epidemic to manageable proportions. But we have to work harder at this stage because it is now not a matter of stopping the new daily cases from increasing. We badly need to bring them down to levels when our health system can work far from the edge of a crisis.