England’s second lockdown did not stop the prevalence of COVID-19 infections, with the rate of infection flattening overall, but rising in some key areas.
Data from Imperial College London’s REACT study found that swab tests on over 160,000 people taken between 13 November and 3 December show that around 1 in 110 was infected, or 0.94% of the population.
The study's recent interim findings, which looked at the first 105,000 test results, showed that infection prevalence fell by approximately 30% during the second half of November. But the latest report shows that despite lockdown the decline wasn’t sustained, with infections levelling off in the final 10 days of the study.
Across the whole study period, the national R was around 1 at 0.96. If R goes above 1, it means that the epidemic is growing again.
Patterns of infection have been uneven across the country and some areas experienced a rise in infections, including London where R was found to be over 1. London’s R rate was found to be 1.27.
The study found the highest infection rates in London are in the east and south-east.
School-age children are also the most affected age group, which could be linked to schools remaining open during lockdown.
Professor Paul Elliott, director of the programme at Imperial, said: “During the first half of lockdown our study showed that infections were on a clear downward trajectory, but we’re now seeing a levelling off, driven by clusters of infections in certain regions and age groups.
“Behaviours and public health measures need to be guided by this fast-changing situation to prevent it from worsening, and everyone has a part to play in keeping this virus at bay, especially as we approach a relaxing of rules over Christmas.”
The news comes as the government ramps up restrictions for Greater London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire. These areas will face Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions from Wednesday, as the UK seeks to get a grip on rising infections including a new variant of COVID-19.
Millions of people face stricter curbs on everyday life and many hospitality and culture firms face closure as the areas are placed on “very high alert” by the UK government from 12.01am local time on Wednesday.
On Monday, health secretary Matt Hancock acknowledged the decision would be a “significant blow” for affected firms in a Commons statement confirming the changes on Monday. He resisted business chiefs’ calls for more help and warnings thousands of jobs were at risk, with more than half England’s hospitality venues now reported to be in Tier 3.
More than 8 million residents of Greater London will be affected, as well as others who commute into or visit the capital.
Tier 3 curbs are likely to cause significant economic damage to Greater London and the areas affected in Essex and Hertfordshire.
Londoners make up about 13.4% of the UK’s total population, according to European Commission data. However London’s economy generated almost a quarter of the UK’s total output last year, responsible for 23.6% of GDP.
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