Numbers

XKCD strip wearing a mask reminds others to keep their distance.
As usual XKCD gets it spot on.

There is a great deal of hope that the new vaccines will provide a way out of the current Covid crisis. Certainly things are very very bad here in the UK with the number of daily deaths yesterday the highest that there have been. We do sometimes have an inaccurate perception of large numbers. We think in terms of millionaires having lots of money and billionaires being much the same but more. 

I used to do an exercise with my students to show the difference. 
100 seconds is 1 minute and 40 seconds. 
1000 seconds is 16 minutes and 40 seconds
10,000 seconds is 2 hours and 46 minutes
100,000 seconds  is  27 hours and 46 minutes
1,000,000 seconds (a million) is 11 days, 13 hours 
1,000,000,000 seconds (a billion) is 31 years, 8 months and 2 weeks. 

You can see how easy it is to underestimate the actual scale of numbers that are bandied about. In the UK we have a population of around 66 million.  The scale of the proposed vaccination programme is staggering and it is going to be months till even the oldies like us are provided with the jab. 

Talking of numbers, there was an interesting piece in the paper at the weekend on the deaths in 2020 by Professor David Spiegelhalter.  He is the professor of risk and evidence communication at Cambridge University and a frequent guest on ‘The Infinite Monkey Cage‘ on Radio 4.  The numbers are not simple but looking at excess deaths the results are interesting. A significant number of deaths of elderly and infirm adults were brought forward in 2020 by Covid infection and over the winter there has been a reduction deaths caused by seasonal flu, due to the lockdown restrictions. so these two factors add a complication. He also points out the difficulty of counting those who died with Covid rather than from Covid and will the excess deaths in 2020, reduce the numbers for 2021? I think it’s going to be a long haul and years before the actual figures are fully known and understood.  In the meantime, we’ll wait for our text from the medical centre and stay put. 

2 comments

  1. Yes, things are also bad here in Spain, but generally people are much more diligent and respectful of wearing a mask, unlike in the UK. I think we just have to be careful, considerate of others and take it day by day.

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    • Despite much doom and gloom from the media, along with governmental blaming, compliance with the lockdown measures is pretty high here. You very rarely see an adult without a mask in supermarkets etc. And social distancing outside is very polite. In fact we’ve both probably spoken to more strangers this year than any previous year. Admittedly it’s just, hello or thank you but people are behaving well. It’s only those who disregard the rules that make the news though, isn’t it? Having a large organised health service also helps as they are rattling through the vaccination programme. Let’s hope they can maintain the supplies! 🤷🏼‍♀️

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