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Apr 2, 2020

The unfolding coronavirus pandemic is a story driven by numbers. But how reliable are the numbers we have? What can the data really tell us – and what are the major areas of uncertainty?

In this special episode, recorded on 1st April,  Michael Blastland and Professor David Spiegelhalter help us separate the signal from the noise.

  • Why the absolute numbers of confirmed cases and deaths from Covid 19 are dodgy, but the rate at which those numbers change is still a useful indicator.
  • Why Norway vs Sweden is an unfolding natural experiment: neighbouring countries with broadly similar populations, but Norway has gone into strict lockdown and Sweden is being relatively relaxed.
  • There are usually around 600,000 deaths per year in the UK. When we look back, will Covid 19 have caused many excess deaths – or could the figures for 2020 end up looking similar to a bad flu season?
  • How can we think about our personal risk of dying from Covid 19? David sets out how getting Covid 19 multiplies your existing level of risk depending your age: it provides a “pulse” of heightened risk over a short period. 

Full transcript available at:


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Risky Talk is produced by Ilan Goodman for the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge.