Mailbox: PANDA giving actuaries and economists a bad name

BizNews welcomes comment and feedback and publishes your letters in our Mailbox. In this piece, Jay Koome takes aim at PANDA, which has delivered a series of hard-hitting pieces dissecting Covid-19 models. PANDA’s experts argue that the Covid-19 containment measures are doing more harm than good and that political decisions have been based on flawed data. – Editor

PANDA – Giving actuaries and economists a bad name

By Jay Koome

The recent article in Biznews by PANDA, “a thinktank of actuaries and economists”, make no any useful contribution to the Covid debate. Their article is crudely written, disrespectful of the reader, and above all filled with nonsensical gobbledygook. PANDA’s dreadful analyses cannot be left unchallenged. It is not about defending any fixed views or analyses. Any new and insightful scientific facts and analyses that helps one gain new insights into the pandemic is to be welcomed, but PANDA brings none of that to the table.

The first graph in PANDA’s recent article compares Belgium with SA. After figuring out what the unlabelled vertical axis represent, the comparison fails to support the authors argument. It could just as well be used to prove how effective our early and severe lockdown was compared to the late lockdown of Belgium.

PANDA elects to use Deaths Per Million (DPM) in their comparisons throughout. DPM is a backward looking measure and gives no recognition as to where a country may be in the cycle of infections. Belgium for instance has now entered a phase with dramatically reduced infection rates, and death rates down to single digits. South Africa on the other hand is roaring ahead with an ever increasing daily infection rate, with increasing death rates following in its wings. If you consider only DPM’s without considering the phase in the cycle, the data is meaningless. If Belgium considered only DPM’s in March it would not have seen the disaster lying ahead.

It is already a well-known fact that SA has a relatively low death rate as percentage of infections, far lower than many other countries. Do we have a low mortality rate because of our early lockdown, or because of our severe lockdown, or because of our younger age distribution, or because of a genetic make-up, or because of our excellent medical care, or because of the great immunity we have built up with exposure to other viral infections? PANDA sheds no light on these matters, they just present bad maths.

Comparing our statistics with Russia? The Financial Times reported that the real death toll could be 70% higher and the New York Times quoted that it could be nearly three times the official tally. Do we want to associate with Russia where doctors fear for their livelihood if they report Covid cases?

The analyses on mortality near the end of article can only be described deliberately deceiving. Expressing Covid deaths, which started just over 3 months ago from zero, as a percentage of 6 months of historical deaths is disingenuous. A meaningful calculation would one that took the recent few weeks Covid deaths as a percentage of historical average deaths for these weeks which produces a percentage several factors larger than PANDA’s 1.2%. Should the measure of excess deaths be used it pushes Covid to near the top of the table. And our Covid mortality count is on an upward trajectory.

It is not about being an alarmist, nor about arguing for a level 0 or a level 5 lockdown. It’s about being enlightened with good scientific insight. Unfortunately this so called thinktank of actuaries and economists is dishing up drivel at a time when people are seeking to make better informed choices. PANDA should best remain in their tank and do a lot more thinking.


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