England’s coronavirus R rate is now between 0.7 and 1.0, according to SAGE’s latest estimates and the number of people testing positive for coronavirus in the UK today fell again to 29,079 – down 28 per cent from last Friday. 

The Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies said the reproduction value – the average number of people each Covid patient infects – had fallen only slightly from last week’s range of 0.8 to 1.0.

The group warned that cases ‘continue to be dangerously high and the public must remain vigilant to keep this virus under control, to protect the NHS and save lives’. For the UK as a whole, SAGE estimates the R rate is between 0.7 and 1.1, a change from 0.8 and 1.0 last week. The widening of the range ‘reflects a change in uncertainty’ in how quickly the virus is spreading, the experts said. 

Government data has begun conflicting mass-testing surveys during this lockdown, with the number of people being officially diagnosed with Covid plummeting but random swabbing suggesting cases are falling more slowly. The Department of Health today announced 29,079 more positive tests, down more than a quarter on last week. 

Official deaths data was not available this afternoon ‘due to an issue with the processing of deaths data,’ the Department said. 

Today’s weekly Office for National Statistics report estimated that 1.01million people were carrying the disease at any given time in the week ending January 23, the equivalent of one in 55. But there were still large regional disparities, with one in 35 thought to have had the virus in London compared to one in 85 in Yorkshire and one in 70 in the East Midlands.

It is the fourth week in a row the ONS believes more than a million people in England were infected with Covid on any given day and today’s figure is down only slightly on last week’s estimate of 1.02million. The ONS estimates around one in 70 people were carrying the virus in Wales last week, one in 50 in Northern Ireland and one in 110 in Scotland. Statisticians said cases had ‘levelled off’ in all three nations.

Separate data from from ZOE COVID Symptom Study found daily new cases are falling in all regions of the UK, ‘but the pace of decline has slowed down’.  

Today’s results are at odds with a series of findings this week which suggested the national lockdown has really started to kick into gear. Public Health England’s infection survey yesterday showed all but five local authorities in England saw coronavirus infections fall last week, with case rates plunging by more than a third in 40 areas.

And Department of Health data shows hospital admissions of people with Covid-19 have plummeted by a third in the last week and the number of patients in hospital with the virus is starting to fall in all regions of England. 

 

SAGE cautioned that its R rate estimate is about a week out of date and only looks at infections, hospitalisations and deaths up to January 25.  Experts would have hoped that, three weeks into the national lockdown, the R rate would come down more significantly.

There are fears the super-infectious Kent variant, which is thought to be at least 50 per cent more transmissible than the original strain and 30 per cent more deadly, has made lockdowns less effective. 

Professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, and expert at the University of Oxford, said the ONS report today was ‘not good news’. 

‘Whilst cases are clearly down from their peak, (also seen in hospital admissions) over the last two weeks the decline may have stopped, next week will confirm this,’ he said.

‘The prevalence of infection rates remain high and this will translate to a high number of deaths in the weeks ahead. The new variant has as we feared proven very difficult to suppress with UK lockdown measures. 

‘With over 100,000 dead, I realise the certainty of thousands more deaths is bleak news. Families and friends will have paid an awful price for the failure to suppress the virus.

…but Covid cases fell in 97% of local authorities in England last week

All but five local authorities in England saw coronavirus infections fall last week, official data shows in the clearest sign yet that cases are trending downwards across the country during lockdown. 

Public Health England figures published today reveal 144 out of 149 areas (97 per cent) recorded a drop in weekly positive tests in the seven days up to January 24, confirming that cases are now falling in all regions of England. 

Infection rates plunged by more than a third in 40 local authorities and fell sharply by more than a quarter in another 48 areas. Cases are down in every age group, in another positive sign in Britain’s Covid fight.

The PHE report shows that, on the whole, cases are plummeting fastest in the South East and London, which became the UK’s Covid epicentres after an outbreak of the highly infectious Kent strain in autumn.

Infections in these regions fell sooner and faster during the national shutdown because they were put under tough Tier 4 curbs in December while the rest of the country enjoyed more freedoms, which gave them a head-start, and their infection rates are falling from higher peaks.

But the figures now show that areas in the North of England, Yorkshire and the Midlands have started to catch up, with places such as York (-38 per cent), Liverpool (-35 per cent) and Manchester (-26 per cent) seeing significant weekly drops. 

Scientists had been warning for weeks that the national shutdown was having an effect on some but not all parts of England. But the latest promising data suggests the draconian measures are having their desired impact everywhere now.   

The biggest drop in infection rates last week was recorded in Thurrock, Essex, where the weekly case rate was slashed from 757 per 100,000 people to 406, a fall of more than 46 per cent. Eight London boroughs saw similar week-on-week falls, with Tower Hamlets and Lambeth each recording a 42 per cent decrease. Case rates there are now 393 per 100,000 and 397.5, respectively.

Havering and Islington both saw rates tumble by 41 per cent, in Newham it fell by 40 per cent and in Enfield, Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea, there was a 39 per cent decrease. Rounding out the top 10 was the Isle of Wight, where cases went from 612.96 per 100,000 to 366.79, the equivalent of a 40 per cent fall.

Only five local authorities  — mostly in Yorkshire — saw positive Covid tests continue to rise in the past week, but the increases were relatively small. Wakefield, in West Yorkshire, suffered the biggest increase at 9 per cent, with the rate climbing from 229 per 100,000 to 250. In Bradford, also in West Yorkshire, the rate went from 274 to 292.34, a rise of 6 per cent.

In Barnsley, South Yorkshire, there was a 5 per cent week-on-week increase. The infection rate there rose from 246 per 100,000 to 259. The metropolitan borough of Calderdale in West Yorkshire suffered a 3 per cent rise, while North Tyneside, in the North East, went up by just 1 per cent.   

Professor Naismith said the vaccine drive was ‘realistically the only way out of the bind we are in’.

‘If Britain can give lessons to the world on vaccination then we most assuredly have lessons to learn in how to suppress the virus.

‘SARS-COV-2 is a global problem, we will not be safe while the virus rages anywhere. The new variant, if it spreads to poorer countries, will be devastating simply because it appears to be so much more infectious and will therefore overwhelm health services.

‘It is crucially important that we support and aid vaccination efforts in poorer countries, that we continue to develop effect broad spectrum treatments and that we eliminate the virus across the whole UK population.’

The ONS data shows London continues to have the highest proportion of people likely to test positive for coronavirus in any region of England, with around one in 35 people in private households estimated to have had Covid-19 between January 17 and 23. This is unchanged on the estimate for January 10 to 16.

For north-west England the latest estimate is one in 45 people, and for north-east England the estimate is one in 50.

The other estimates are one in 55 people in the West Midlands, one in 60 in eastern England and south-east England, one in 70 in the East Midlands and south-west England, and one in 85 for Yorkshire and the Humber.

The ONS study is based on 173,508 swab tests sent to random homes across the UK over the past two weeks. They returned 3,293 positive tests, which the ONS then uses to extrapolate to the rest of the country using mathematical modelling.

The study does not include people staying in hospitals or in care homes, where Covid is still believed to be rife, which means its findings may underestimate the true scale of the current crisis.

Meanwhile, the Covid Symptom Study, led by King’s College London, is based on 16,353 swab tests done between January 10 and January 24.

The researchers estimate there are currently, 28,645 daily new symptomatic cases of Covid across Brtain on average, compared to 34,133 a week ago, a decrease of 22 per cent. Their estimates are lower than the ONS’ because they only look at symptomatic cases, who make up a minority of overall infections.

Since the peak of 69,000 daily new cases around the 1st January, cases have fallen by 60 per cent, according to the app. But Professor Tim Spector, the lead researcher behind the study, said: ‘Cases are still falling which is good news but there are signs that this 60 per cent decrease is running out of steam.’

The study found the highest risk areas in the UK are currently Liverpool, where one in 68 are estimated to have Covid, London (one in 74) and Birmingham and Black Country (one in 96).

Professor Spector added: ‘Cases are still falling which is good news but there are signs that this 60 per cent decrease is running out of steam with some areas already starting to see R values creep back up to 1.0. 

‘With the number of active cases (prevalence) at 520,000 and falling slowly, the risk of infection remains high and so it’s important to continue with social measures to reduce transmission.

‘We need to remember there are other early symptoms of the virus such as headache, fatigue and sore throat. If more people self-isolated and got tested when experiencing these we’d be able catch people earlier and reduce transmission. 

‘People reporting these symptoms in the ZOE app, not just the classic three, will be offered a test. Hospital admissions are now easing slightly, which is good news and is in line with our predictions as cases have been falling for the last three weeks. 

‘With the continued roll out of the vaccine to hospital staff, the older and most vulnerable, we are hopeful that we will start to see a real impact on infection levels and hospital pressure soon.’ 

More positive data today showed that over three-quarters of all major hospital trusts in England are currently reporting fewer Covid-19 patients than at their second-wave peak.

In some regions, such as eastern and south-east England, all but one trust has dropped below the level seen at the peak of the second wave of the virus. The proportion of trusts still reporting a record number of Covid-19 patients is slightly higher in north-east and north-west England, however.

All but five local authorities in England saw coronavirus infections fall last week, official data shows in the clearest sign yet that cases are trending downwards across the country during lockdown

The analysis of NHS England figures by the PA news agency found that of 140 acute hospital trusts which reported figures for January 26, 122 – or 87 per cent – had fewer Covid-19 patients than at their second-wave peak.

Mid & South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, for example, reported 676 patients on January 26, down from a second-wave peak of 920 on January 8. At Barking, Havering & Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, there were 357 patients on January 26, down from a second-wave peak of 518 on January 11.

East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust, had 297 patients on January 26, which was down from 460 on January 4. There was a similar story at United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, with 148 patients on January 26, down from 253 on December 4.

Among those trusts still reporting a record number of Covid-19 patients are York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (215 patients), University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (185) and the Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (165).  For the purposes of the analysis, the second wave was taken to begin on November 1.

As of January 26, 13 of the 14 acute trusts in eastern England were below their second-wave peak, with 18 of 19 in south-east England and 14 of 15 in south-west England.

By contrast the figure for north-west England was 17 of 24, and for north-east England/Yorkshire it was 18 of 22. For both London and the Midlands the figure was 21 of 23.

Across England as a whole, 30,333 Covid-19 patients were in hospital as of 8am on January 28 – down 9% on the previous week, and the lowest total since January 9.  



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