Did COVID-19 infections decline before UK lockdown?

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Did COVID-19 infections decline before UK lockdown? Simon N. Wood

University of Bristol, UK. simon.wood@bath.edu June 1, 2020

The number of new infections per day is a key quantity for effective epidemic management. It can be estimated by testing of random population samples. Without such direct epidemiological measurement, other approaches are required to infer whether the number of new cases is likely to be increasing or decreasing: for example, estimating the pathogen reproductive rate, R, using data gathered from the clinical response to the disease. For COVID-19 such R estimation is heavily dependent on modelling assumptions, because the available clinical case data are opportunistic observational data subject to severe temporal confounding. Given this difficulty it is useful to reconstruct the time course of infections from the least compromised available data, using minimal prior assumptions. A Bayesian inverse problem approach applied to UK data on COVID-19 deaths and the published disease duration distribution suggests that infections were in decline before UK lockdown, and that infections in Sweden started to decline only a short time later.