Coronavirus infections fell by 28% during lockdown, new study finds

Latest React study finds evidence for recent rise in London as cases fall in north

Peter Stubley
Tuesday 15 December 2020 08:02 GMT
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Coronavirus infections fell by 28 per cent across England during lockdown despite increases in London and among school-age children before restrictions were lifted.

Fewer than one in 100 people in the country was carrying the virus by 3 December, with an average national R number of 0.96, according to the React-1 study from Imperial College London.

However the latest round of testing indicated the second lockdown was less effective at reducing rates of infection than the first and revealed wide variation between different areas of the country. Some regions even saw an increase during the final two weeks of restrictions.

Coronavirus infections in the West Midlands halved from 1.55 per cent to 0.71 per cent between 13 November and 3 December and decreased in the East Midlands (to 1.04 per cent) and the North West (0.92 per cent), but rose in Yorkshire (from 1.17 to 1.3 per cent), the North East (0.72 per cent to 1.26 per cent) and London (0.98 per cent to 1.21 per cent).

The R number – the growth rate of the virus – showed a "marked reduction" in the North West (to 0.88) and West Midlands (to 0.6), according to the study, while there was evidence of a flattening off or a recent rise in the South West and East of England and a rise in London to around 1.27.

The study also indicated that infections had shifted focus from the 18 to 24 age group to school-age children.

Around one in 50 of those aged 13 to 17 (2.04 per cent) were carrying the virus, and around 1 in 60 of those aged 5 to 12 (1.7 per cent). There were large falls in the proportion of infections among people aged between 18 and 24.

The study suggests that the improvement in northern regions may be because they have been under the strictest measures for longer because of the tier system that applied before lockdown.

"The lockdown in England during the second wave of the Covid-19 epidemic has been accompanied by a reduction in prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 nationally," said authors Paul Elliott and Steven Riley of Imperial College London.

"This has helped to offset the large rises in prevalence observed during October 2020. However, the fall in prevalence during lockdown was not seen uniformly across the country.

"In particular, we found evidence for a recent rise in London and a flattening off elsewhere. Continued vigilance is required to reduce rates of infection until effective immunity at the population level can be achieved through the vaccination programme."

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