Grant Shapps assured us that this time around the data and decision-making process around the traffic light system would be much more transparent, and, to be fair, the criteria were published on May 11th, and can be found here.
It is worth briefly touching on what’s in this Government publication though because the key metrics are missing, and the criteria listed are vague. For example, the JBC will apparently be looking at “test positivity”, but there is no specification of what level of positivity for which tests (or at what cycle threshold for the PCR test) would trigger a change from amber to green or red. The same vagueness is rife throughout the four parts of the process outlined in this publication.
The first of these four parts is Variant assessment, which includes
- severity of disease
- escape from natural immunity
- escape from vaccine-induced immunity
- effect on therapeutics
- zoonotic emergence (jumped from animal to human)
- current epidemiology
Nice to know that natural immunity is recognised by some in Government… but what levels of transmissibility, how severe should symptom presentation be, and so on?
The second part is “Triage”, which includes
- testing rates per 100,000 population
- weekly incidence rates per 100,000 population
- test positivity
- evidence of VOC/VUI cases in country and territory
- exported cases/VOCs/VUIs to the UK and elsewhere
- genomic sequencing capability
- strong travel links with countries and territories known to have community transmission of a VOC/VUI
I wonder if “testing rates” is being considered by other countries too for conditional travel, and whether this might explain part of the push for huge levels of testing within the UK?
Further assessment is the third part and reads, “All countries and territories that pass triage for green or red indicators undergo a more comprehensive risk assessment using additional quantitative and qualitative information”.
Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t appear to have been clarified at any point what would constitute “passing triage for green or red indicators”. Is that not exactly what people would like to see made public?
And finally, “Outcome”, is listed as the fourth part to the assessment methodology, which interestingly includes the comment, “This methodology will evolve to reflect the changing pattern of the COVID-19 epidemic” which some people in the media or on social media who love to say “we’re in a pandemic” might want to take note of.
Turning our attention to the risk assessment published late last week by the JBC though (the first opportunity we were given to see the data we were told by Grant Shapps on May 7th that we would be given access to) there are more irregularities.
The first is around scrutiny: the only data that is published is on the select few countries and territories that have been deemed worthy of a shift from amber to either green or red; how can anyone seek to offer or perform independent analysis on the data, if the only data provided is on less than 10% of all countries and territories being examined?
Further, we are told in the cover sheet that, “Any counts less than 3 are suppressed in the table to avoid disclosure.” If “to avoid disclosure” weren’t a bad enough reason not to do something, this makes the page of “data” look like the picture at the top of this article.
Then there’s the inconsistency: most notably, Pitcairn Islands, one of the movers from amber to green, has, in every single one of its cells in the 11 columns of data, “[no data]”; but alongside that, two of the six new Red countries/territories (Eritrea and Haiti) have lower total newly reported cases per 100,000 than three of the new Green countries/territories (Madeira, Balearic Islands, and Virgin Islands (British)); the territory with the highest vaccination rate (Mongolia at 108.4 doses per 100) is on the new Red list, while the Dominican Republic, which falls seventh on this list of 22 countries/territories shifted has also been added to the red list.
In fact, the only column that appears to hold any relevance is positivity rate, with the top five countries and territories all reporting over 15% and all being on the new red list, and the bottom eleven countries and territories all reporting less that 1.5% and all having been shifted to the green list. Although, it should be noted that of the six countries and territories for which there is “no data” in this category, five have been moved to the green list.
It would seem from the data presented, therefore, that the methodology outlined in May is not being adhered to, and that the only criterion being paid any attention is positivity rate, which, according to Note 12 is “Publicly available data from countries, collated by Public Health England.” With no link provided; however, as mentioned earlier, “positivity rate” doesn’t tell us which test or testing protocol is being used.
What’s more, given the woefully limited data that has been presented, it is impossible to verify this supposition. How many of the “over 250 countries and territories” reviewed by the JBC have a lower positivity rate than the new green list countries and territories, or a higher rate than the red list countries and territories?
Labour’s shadow transport minister Jim McMahon called for the government to publish the criteria for placing destinations in either the red, amber or green list – as well as the analysis and data that underpins this in the Commons today.
In response, Shapps said “the methodology for the traffic light list, and the data behind it, is already published on the government website.”
In response to Shapps, I would say he was being creative with the truth in that comment and that the RAG assessment provided really is nothing more than a rag.