Reason Roundup

What We Can Learn From the U.K. About the Delta Variant

Plus: Apple privacy concerns, changes to digital subscriptions, and more...


U.K. provides good news on the delta variant. After a recent surge of delta variant COVID-19 cases in the United Kingdom, infection rates are now dropping and the virus's case fatality rate remains low—even lower than during the earlier waves of the virus. The data provide hope the United States, too, may pull through its delta wave without too much disaster.

Despite loosening pandemic restrictions in July, the U.K. has seen its case counts plummet. "Officially recorded new cases more than halved in just 2 weeks: from a high of 54,674 on 17 July to 22,287 on 2 August," notes Nature magazine.

The spread of the more-infectious Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 in the United Kingdom seemed, despite the country's successful vaccination roll-out, to be creating a dangerous crisis. Exponential growth in infections since June led to predictions of as many as 100,000 new cases being reported daily, and fears that the National Health Service (NHS) could be overwhelmed by hospitalizations. In such a climate, many scientists felt that the government's full relaxation of mitigating restrictions in England, such as mask wearing and the closure of nightclubs and other venues, on 19 July was reckless.

It is still too early to know what effect the relaxation will have, given that the data on new cases and hospitalizations have a lag of around two weeks. Few public-health experts, however, anticipated the recent sharp drop — and they are struggling to interpret it.

Meanwhile, the country has also seen a drop in the infection fatality rate, which is much lower than it was at previous points in the pandemic.

"COVID deaths have begun to flatten out in the UK, on schedule with when you'd expect them to based on an earlier decline in cases. Assuming a ~20-day lag between cases and deaths, the case fatality rate is something like 0.2-0.3%, as compared with ~2% during the Alpha wave," pointed out statistician Nate Silver on Twitter this morning. "Since not all cases are detected, the case fatality rate is an overestimate of the *infection* fatality rate. Data from the ONS implies perhaps 1 in every 2.5 or 3 infections are being detected in the UK, which means the [infection fatality rate] is in the vicinity of 0.1%."

The low infection fatality rate in the U.K. is in part a measure of high vaccination rates, which mean not only fewer people in high-risk populations getting the disease, but less severe cases and outcomes when they do.

The U.K.'s low infection fatality rate is "what happens when you vaccinate a very large percentage of your elderly population, as the UK has," adds Silver. "We won't do quite as well in the US, although with 90% age 65+ partly vaccinated and 80% fully vaccinated, that will still help a lot."

In the U.S., the recent case fatality rate has been higher than in the U.K. but still relatively low.

"Case fatality rate in US is running about 1.7%," tweeted physician and Brown University School of Public Health Dean Ashish K. Jha this morning in response to Silver. "I suspect we had more pockets of vulnerable, unvaccinated communities here and Delta is ravaging them."

In the U.K., 88 percent of adults have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine and 73 percent have received two doses. In the U.S., it's 70 percent for one dose and 60 percent for two, according to NBC News.

Much has been made of late of delta "breaking through" the vaccines more easily (albeit causing mild cases when it does), though how often this happens—and whether/how easily vaccinated people can spread the delta variant—is still being researched and debated.

A new study from Imperial College London released yesterday found "fully-vaccinated people have an around 50 to 60% reduced risk of infection from the Delta coronavirus variant, including those who are asymptomatic," reports Reuters. The study found "the viral load among people with COVID was also lower in vaccinated people."

"Extensive PCR testing showed that fully vaccinated people had lower viral loads than un- or partially vaccinated, supporting decreased potential for Delta transmission," notes physician and author Eric Topol.


Apple's alleged new photo-scanning policy is raising alarms about what it means for user encryption and privacy:


Changes are coming to digital subscriptions, with consumers being offered more choices and customization options. From The New York Times:

Many of the subscriptions to digital services work the same way. Netflix, Spotify and Amazon Prime typically charge one fee for access to a collection of goodies.

There are signs, however, that the all-you-can-eat digital subscriptions are becoming more nuanced. Some companies including Disney and Whole Foods, the grocery chain that is owned by Amazon, are charging subscribers more for compelling extras. Others including Spotify and YouTube are experimenting with subscriptions that cost less but come with compromises. Both strategies may show that the endless digital buffet is changing for good.

I don't know whether the subscription strategies will stick, or how we might respond to having more choices. Maybe you'd like the option to pay less at the buffet because you always skip dessert or to pay a little more for filet mignon. Or it could ruin the simple appeal of the buffet.

Either way, we should get used to more experiments.


• A Senate panel voted to finally repeal authorizations of wars with Iraq from 1991 and 2002. The issue now goes to the full Senate.

• In a new Quinnipiac University poll, 60 percent of respondents said it would be bad for the country if Donald Trump runs for president in 2024.

• New York lawmakers are prepared to impeach Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

• Alabama's longest-serving sheriff has been convicted on felony corruption-related charges. Mike Blakely was found "guilty of one count of theft and one count of using his position for personal gain," reports "The theft charge was related to his campaign fund and dealings with Red Brick consulting, while the personal gain charge was related to loans from a safe that held money belonging to inmates."