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Lockdown beginning to slow spread of coronavirus, study shows

Sean Morrison
·4-min read

Lockdown is beginning to slow the spread of Covid in many areas of the country, new research has found.

The research, which saw more than 167,600 volunteers tested in England between January 6 and 22, showed that Covid-19 infections remained ‘very high’.

One in 64 people infected throughout this time, the study showed.

It comes after Boris Johnson suggested lockdown measures would remain in place next month and beyond, as he announced schools would not reopen before March 8.

The findings from Imperial College London’s React study showed infections in England have flattened but are at the highest level recorded by the researchers.

There was, however, an indication of a decline in the last week of the survey.

Cases are decreasing in the capital, in the South West and South East, but increasing in the East Midlands, the researchers said.

The main findings from the eighth round of the study suggested national prevalence was 1.57 per cent, or 157 per 10,000 people infected.

And it estimated the national R number to be at 0.98 with a range of 0.92 to 1.04.

Regional prevalence was highest in London at 2.83 per cent, while in the South West it was 0.87 per cent.

Prevalence increased nationally in all adult age groups and was highest in 18 to 24-year-olds at 2.44 per cent, while prevalence in the over-65s is 0.93 per cent – almost one in 100.

Professor Paul Elliott, director of the programme at Imperial, said: “The number of people infected with the virus is at the highest level that we’ve recorded since we began testing last May.

“We’re not seeing the sharp drop in infections that happened under the first lockdown and if infections aren’t brought down significantly, hospitals won’t be able to cope with the number of people that need critical care.

“We all need to stay at home wherever possible and help bring the virus under control and protect our already over-stretched health system.”

Prof Elliott added: “I think the suggestion now that there is a decline happening, particularly in some regions may reflect now that the restrictions through lockdown are beginning to have some effect on the prevalence.”

He said that even though there is a suggestion of “a downtick”, it is by no means as fast as happened in the first lockdown.

“When we were first in the field in May, there was a rapid decline in prevalence,” he said.

The researchers say it will be some time before the impact of vaccination reduces pressures on hospitals.

It is not yet known whether being vaccinated stops someone from passing the virus on to others.

The React study from Imperial College London and Ipsos Mori has been conducted every month since May, excluding December.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the findings were a “stark reminder” of the need to remain vigilant.

The study comes as Mr Johnson earmarked March 8 as the date to begin the reopening of England’s schools.

Watch: Boris Johnson hopes to set out plan for easing lockdown measures in England at the end of February

The March reopening target is based on progress in vaccinating the most vulnerable groups in society by mid-February and then giving the jab time to take effect.

Mr Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel have also set out plans for tougher controls on international travel to reduce the risk of importing mutant strains.

The measures include a 10-day quarantine in hotel for travellers from 30 high-risk countries which are currently subject to travel bans including South Africa, Portugal and many South American nations.

Meanwhile, the European Union has demanded access to AstraZeneca vaccines manufactured in UK plants as the bloc’s row with the pharmaceutical giant over a shortage of doses intensified.

Mr Johnson insisted the Government is “very confident in our contracts” after European health commissioner Stella Kyriakides told the firm on Wednesday it is contractually obliged to send jabs produced in the UK to EU member states.

Elsewhere, a special recognition payment of £500 was announced for Northern Ireland’s health staff, while in Scotland Nicola Sturgeon said she is “truly sorry” for any mistakes that have been made after the UK’s coronavirus death toll passed 100,000.

Mr Johnson will visit Scotland on Thursday to stress the benefits of being in the UK, Mr Johnson highlighting the support afforded Scots during the Covid-19 crisis.

In Wales, health minister Vaughan Gething said snow and icy conditions were a “key factor” for the country failing to meet its target of vaccinating 70% of over-80s by the end of the weekend.

Watch: What UK government COVID-19 support is available?

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