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Letter: Understand the numbers to avoid panic

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SIR – I could be a concert pianist. I have all my digits and senses. But approaching 70 with no musical experience or ability, it is unlikely – unlikely as in 10-million to one.

So to Brockenhurst’s and other councils’ road closures and Covid. There are circa 180,000 people in the New Forest district, which regularly reports zero or one new case a day.

The chance of catching the virus by briefly passing a stranger in a high street is unlikely – unlikely as in millions to one. Put another way, you are probably 1,000 times more likely to trip on the four-inch kerb that becomes part of the footpath, break your ankle get infected and seriously ill than catch the virus.

We all desperately need to become numerate. We need to understand the difference between a one in 40 chance of being involved in a traffic accident each year (and 2.8 in 100,000 die), which we accept, and the one in a million ‘virus’ chance that is stopping you from going to the shops.

If you hire a car in USA, traffic fatalities are four times higher per unit population – but you wouldn’t hesitate to do so.

We all love a good panic. And fear sells. So the media won’t always inform you. Some risks are valid; the elderly and immuno-compromised are at perhaps a one in 1,000 risk of serious illness if and when there is a second spike. But not right now fortunately.

If we do not understand numbers, if we do not understand risks, there is a danger that we will spend our time sitting indoors, thinking we can be a concert pianist. And that is a terrible option.

Peter Padfield,


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