Throughout the last 18 months, all our lives have been dominated by Covid-19. The pandemic has been the most damaging event in Britain since World War II, where Mathematicians worked tirelessly to crack the enigma code and aid the war effort considerably. Sadly, Covid-19 has no enigma code, however that has not prevented Mathematics from playing a crucial role in the fight against the virus.
The main branch of Maths that is useful in a situation like this is Statistics. Even those of you have not been paying attention will have felt like you were being bombarded with a variety of graphs, charts, and tables. The most basic of these show the number infected or hospitalised by the virus, however Statistics is contributing at a much deeper level on top of this. Before the government locked down the country in March of last year, they were presented with a vast array of statistics-based projections on the outcome of different strategies. This included the projections of infections and hospitalisations if we did not enter lockdown. If it had not been for these data projections being shown to a government whose prior attitude to the pandemic had been dismissive, then these apocalyptic projections of overflowing hospitals (even more than normal) and nationwide illness would have become a reality.
Now you may think that whilst this is clearly important, it is only relevant for those at the top of government and a selection of experts to understand the data and therefore understand statistics and maths. However, this is a dangerous view to hold. Whilst statistics are extremely useful, they are open to manipulation which can change a person’s viewpoint on an issue entirely. Whether it be on the news, Facebook, or in the government’s daily briefings, statistics are picked and explained specifically to fit the message that people want to put forward. Data can be hard to understand and when it is formatted and displayed in a particular way it can make people believe it is showing something completely different to what it displays. Therefore, it is crucial that students become statistically literate, so that when presented with a table containing data about Covid-19, you can interpret its true meaning and what the statistics show about the pandemic. This will prevent the spread of misinformation, and help you understand the decisions taken by those in charge.