“Numbers can kill” – Stats SA chair decries the value of granular data

Michael O’ Donovan in this presentation states it clearly – access to granular COVID-19 data (and other datasets) in South Africa is critical to target the pandemic effectively. There is much said about a “second wave ” of the pandemic. If one looks at regions and countries as a whole, one will see that there is a “second wave”. The question being – is this wave a consequence of a reinfection of the same population/geographic area or is it an infection of a new geographic area. For example, the movement of the epicenter of the pandemic from Western Cape to Gauteng.

Without granular data it is impossible to answer this particular question. Premier Winde was justified in making confirmed Covid-19 data available at a subplace level. For example, when the confirmed Covid-19 cases were released at a district level in the Western Cape it showed that Tygerberg was a “hotspot” but when one looks at the more granular information, one realizes that the reason for this is that Gugulethu forms part of this district. Gugulethu was the actual epicenter of the pandemic in the province.

“Numbers can kill” is an article published by the head of the School of Governance at Wits University and is the present chair of council in Statistics South Africa. The article argues that to “protect people from each other” granular data should not be provided. In other words, the chair of Stats SA council is suggesting that granular data should be held back, and people should be kept ignorant of the reality associated with COVID-19 in their local community. What may be even worse, is that it encourages other agencies of the state (eg Eskom) not to make granular data available for effective decision-making in South Africa .

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