There was a 30% drop in cases across the country over almost a fortnight this month, with 96 people infected per 10,000 between 13-24 November, down from 132 per 10,000 between 26 October and 2 November.
The R number, which shows the level of transmission, is now 0.88. Any figure above 1 means the virus is growing exponentially.
The findings, from the government-funded React mass surveillance study, have been welcomed as proof that both the England-wide lockdown that began on 5 November, and the system of different tiered restrictions that preceded it, succeeded in reducing transmission of the virus. The study, undertaken by Imperial College London and polling experts Ipsos Mori, has produced regular reports during the pandemic on infection rates in England.
“Our robust data offers encouraging signs for England’s epidemic, where we’re seeing a fall in infections at the national level and in particular across regions that were previously worst affected,” said Prof Paul Elliott, the director of the real-time assessment of community transmission programme at Imperial.
“These trends suggest that the tiered approach helped to curb infections in these areas and that lockdown has added to this effect.” The proportion of people infected in the English areas worst affected in the pandemic’s second wave – the north-west, north-east, and Yorkshire and the Humber – have fallen dramatically.
The study found the percentage of the population infected has more than halved in both the north-west – down from 2.53% to 1.08% – and in the north-east, down from 1.88% to 0.72%. In Yorkshire and the Humber, it fell from 1.8% to 1.17%.
An interim report from the REACT study, which included results from home coronavirus tests taken between 13 and 24 November, found that approximately 0.96% of England’s population has the virus.
Compared with previous findings, which evaluated tests involving over 160,000 people between 16 October and 2 November, there was around a 30% reduction in the number of COVID-19 infections across the country.
The research, led by Imperial College London and Ipsos MORI, also found that the overall R rate has dropped below 1 (estimated at 0.88), which means that infections are slowing down rather than increasing.
“REACT is one of a number of studies that are feeding into decision-making and helping to ensure that public health measures are based on robust, current evidence,’ said Steven Riley, study author and professor of Infectious Disease Dynamics at Imperial. People living in households of six or more were also around twice as likely to test positive compared to people living alone or with one other person, and ethic minorities were also more likely to have the virus compared to white people.
In particular, Asian individuals were found to have the highest risk of contracting a COVID-19 infection, the study revealed.
“Thanks to the huge efforts of the public over the last few weeks we have been able to get the virus better under control to keep our NHS open,” said Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock.
“This latest data shows we must maintain our resolve and we cannot afford to take our foot off the pedal just yet despite the very encouraging fall in cases and advances in vaccines,” he added.
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