Second wave planning

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The European Commission recently remarked that this summer is not for a holiday, but for second wave prep. The Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides went on to say: “We do not have the right to say this is too much, I’m too tired, this is enough. This would mean giving up all the sacrifices that have been made.” 

Yet in many conversations we have about 2020-21 media planning, a second wave is rarely spoken about. Is everyone preparing properly? Or are we simply hoping a second wave doesn’t happen? 

In this blog, we thought we’d put on our data hats, and have a look at whether a second wave is inevitable, and when it might happen. 

London cases are on the rise again 

We’ll focus our attention on London, a self-contained region with a large dense population (that’s not a comment on intellect!) and one where an outbreak could gather momentum quickly. 

If we look at a 7-day rolling total of new cases in London, at first glance the data appears to just show a downwards trend, albeit one that has recently levelled off. (Note: data is for both pillar 1 and 2 cases, and has been adjusted to allow for expected maturity). To unpick what is going on, we need to look at how this data compares to the week before. Suddenly everything looks a lot more interesting.   

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We can clearly see: 

  • First wave tail: Weekly new cases were growing throughout March and into April, but with a rate of increase that was falling rapidly and turned negative on 10 April. 
  • Steady decline in new cases: For the rest of April and May, weekly new cases continued to decline at a significant and fairly consistent rate.
  • Early second wave: From the start of June, the rate with which weekly new cases were falling became ever weaker, and eventually turned positive, meaning cases are now growing again.   

To understand why cases have started to grow, we have built a simple statistical model. This lets us look for all the factors influencing the rise and fall of new cases. Since a new case will be recorded after someone has shown symptoms and taken a test, we re-timed the same set of data to be 6 days earlier. This allows us to look for the triggers of when and why someone is catching the virus, rather than simply when they are taking a test. 

Quarantines are important, but maybe not as you expect 

Our analysis shows a clear point at which cases start to grow and this is precisely the date when Dominic Cummings was in the news for driving to Barnard Castle. It is almost as if this is a trigger for a shift in mindset away from lockdown. 

But this only explains half the story. Why are there periods when the rate of increase grows and falls? The model suggests that quarantines may be the answer. When these are announced, the rate of new cases falls. When quarantines are released, it rises. Although this can partly be explained by changing travel behaviour, it is also as if the quarantine is a reminder for us all that the virus is still present. When we hear of a quarantine, we modify our behaviour even if we aren’t directly affected by it. 

The current Spanish quarantine will work in much the same way, it helps remind us the virus is there, and as a consequence we temper our behaviour. Could it be the government realise this too, and are using quarantines to squash outbreaks of the second wave in more ways than one? 

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Looking ahead, a second wave is inevitable 

Our model says that a second wave is inevitable. The rate of increase in London is now consistently above zero. If we assume that this continues, we would have a second wave of Covid-19 in October. 

For marketing, there are many implications for this which we might write about in a future blog. For example: Does this change your advertising budget in October/ November? Is your creative suitable for running in a second wave? Are you being careful about your channel mix, such as out of home?  

We’d love to hear from anyone else who is modelling the second wave, and looking at the marketing implications. Do get in touch! 

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