How the risk of coronavirus compares with the risks of everyday life

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Risk is integral to every activity, notes an analysis in the Daily Telegraph. So how does coronavirus compare to the dangers posed by everyday living in the UK?

Just how risky is a low level of coronavirus in the community compared with the risks individuals take every day through activities such as driving, drinking or crossing a busy road?

After all, the 25,000 serious injuries caused by road traffic accidents in Britain each year could be prevented by banning cars, but we do not take that step because people need to get around. Likewise, we could prevent the 17,000 flu deaths each year by observing social distancing and keeping a lockdown in place to prevent community transmission.

The report says speaking at the science and technology select committee, Osama Rahman, the chief scientific adviser at the Department for Education, said people had to accept that some risks were inevitable. “There is always a risk of transmission,” he told MPs. “Can we get the risk of transmission to zero? No. And what can you put in place that will help reduce risks as much as possible? There will always be some risk. There is a risk going to school anyway – it’s not a risk-free environment, so to what extent is that risk acceptable?”

The Daily Telegraph looks at the figures:

Age: Age is one of the biggest risk factors for general health and wellbeing, with the chance of dying rising substantially as people grow older. Although there is an early spike in the deaths of babies due to congenital birth defects and problems in delivery, the chance of dying as a child is eye-squintingly small, with those aged nine and 10 the least likely of any age group to die. As Cambridge University risk expert Sir David John Spiegelhalter put it in a recent blog: “Nobody in the history of humanity has been as safe as a contemporary primary school child.” Youngsters also seem largely immune to coronavirus, with most cases involving people over 60 or with underlying health conditions.

In April, Imperial College modelled the death rates for the virus, factoring in for the first time less serious cases which will never trouble the health service. While the overall death rate of those in hospital is hovering at around 1.3%, or about one in 77, it falls dramatically to 0.66%, or one in 152, when mild and asymptomatic cases are included. The same lowering of risk holds true for all age ranges, and means that the chance of dying for children contracting coronavirus is miniscule, approximately 0.0069% for 10 to 29-year olds – one in 14,492.

For the under-10s, there is even less risk – around 0.0016%, or one in 62,500. Those in their 20s have a one in 1,666 chance of death, while for 30-somethings it is one in 1,190. For people in their 40s it is approximately one in 625, in their 50s one in 169 and in their 60s nearly one in 50. Over-70s have a roughly one in 23 risk of death.

The risk of dying from anything follows the same linear pattern as coronavirus as people age, with a slight rise in the late teens and early 20s largely caused by the follies of youth. But apart from that blip, the average risk of death doubles roughly every eight years.

Each age group has a different chance of dying each year, and Spiegelhalter has calculated that coronavirus squeezes, on average, a year’s worth of risk for someone who is hospitalised. So, for an 80-year-old Briton, the chance of death from anything annually is around 11%, and coronavirus adds 9.3% to that for hospitalised patients. For those aged 10 to 19 the risk is far lower, accounting for just five months of annual risk, yet for those 60 to 69 it is two-and-a-half years of extra risk.

If we include those who never needed hospital, the risk falls even further. So, while the annual risk of death for a 10 to 19-year-old is just 0.02%, the risk of death from coronavirus is 0.0069% – the equivalent of four months of annual risk.

Accidents: While there is a general risk from ageing, the public faces a host of other risks in daily life.

The avoidable mortality rate in Britain, which includes accidents, unintentional injuries and some preventable diseases, is currently 228 people per 100,000, or 0.2%. But the risk from coronavirus for the general population does not rise above that until people hit their 50s – so for anyone under that age the disease is less risky than the general underlying chance of death from preventable causes.

For road accidents, the fatality rate by population hovers around 2.8 deaths per 100,000 people. The government is encouraging more people to cycle, but cyclists are 15 times more likely to be killed on Britain’s roads than car drivers. Department for Transport figures show that, for every billion miles cycled, there are 1,139 serious injuries and 29 deaths. That compares with just 27 serious injuries and two deaths per billion miles for car drivers.

Walking is also encouraged under the new government plans, yet pedestrians are at even greater risk than cyclists or drivers, with 34 killed each year for every billion miles walked and 461 seriously injured. However, with fewer cars on the roads the rate of cycling and pedestrian deaths is likely to drop. Motorcycle riders are at the greatest risk, with 126 deaths and 2,038 serious injuries per billion miles travelled. Some 147 people are killed at work each year, while 581,000 people suffer an injury.

Professor Alan Penn, the chief scientific adviser at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, said risks would inevitably go up once lockdown was released. “There is a hierarchy of risks, and we decide which measures can be taken and give advice about how they need to consider the risk,” he told MPs. “The risks will increase. One reason we are able to do opening up is because the total numbers infected are dropping, so the risk from that perspective is reducing.”

Crime: The chance of becoming a victim of crime in a single year is now 15%, but that changes dramatically depending on age. While around one in five of those aged 16 to 24 can expect to experience a crime annually, that drops to just one in 20 for the over-75s.
The type of crime also varies. The chance of being robbed is around 0.3% in 100, while 0.9% of people are a victim of violence without injury, 0.5% a victim of assault with minor injury, and 0.4% a victim of wounding.

Likewise, the average adult in England and Wales has a one in 100,000 chance of being murdered in a given year, while domestic abuse among the wider population is around 7.9% of women and 4.2% of men. Over the last decade, the annual chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack on British soil was about one in 11.4m per year.

Health: Around 600,000 people die in Britain every year, with the frail and elderly most at risk, just as they are from coronavirus. The most recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveals that more than one in eight people will die of dementia and Alzhiemer’s disease, which is now the leading cause of death.

In Britain each year, 280 people in 100,000 die of cancer, and there are an estimated 40,000 deaths per year linked to outdoor air pollution, with dirty air linked to lung cancer, stroke, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and fatal asthma.

The risk from depression is also high, particularly for young people. The leading cause of death for 20 to 34-year-olds in the UK is suicide and injury or poisoning of undetermined intent for all years observed, accounting for 27.1% of male deaths and 16.7% of female deaths for this age group.

Bad habits: As well as health, accidents and age risks which cannot be avoided, many people raise their risk of ill health and early death through bad lifestyle habits.

As many as one-third of heavy smokers aged 35 will die before the age of 85 from diseases caused by their smoking. For a 55-year-old smoker, the chance of developing lung cancer in the next decade is 34 in 1,000, compared to just one in 1,000 for a non-smoker.

Likewise, consuming one to two drinks four or more times per week – an amount deemed healthy by current guidelines – increases the risk of premature death by 20% compared with drinking three times a week or fewer.

The male drug poisoning rate has significantly increased from 89.6/m males in 2017 to 105.4/m in 2018. Two-thirds, or 2,917, of drug-related deaths were related to drug misuse, accounting for deaths of 50.9/m deaths people in 2018.

How much risk is too much?: The government assessment of risk is based on the reproduction, or ‘R’ number, which calculates how many other people will be infected by one person with coronavirus. The rate is currently below one, which is why some lockdown measures have been lifted, but the government will reimpose measures if it rises again.

However, some experts believe that Britain could still function with an ‘R’ rate of above one. Professor Jonathan Ball, of the University of Nottingham, said: “If the effective ‘R’ is above one, then that means numbers will increase – therefore you can get away with that until your capacity to deal with hospital ICU admissions is swamped.”

Mark Woolhouse, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, believes it should be scrapped altogether.

“Insisting on ‘R’ below one is painting yourself into a corner – it restricts your options very substantially,” he said. “We have a situation where it’s almost certainly below one in the community but above one in care homes, and that’s the wrong way round. We would rather it was less than one in care homes and maybe above one in the general population as a price worth paying.”

Full report in The Daily Telegraph

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