SCIENTISTS have estimated that the UK’s R-rate may have plunged below one in some regions amid hopes lockdown is starting to take effect.
New modelling from Cambridge University suggests that transmission could be slowing in hard-hit areas such as London and the South East.
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A further 48,682 cases were reported yesterday – down 7.5 per cent on last Thursday’s figure.
And new research published by Cambridge University’s Medical Research Council Biostatistics Unit Biostatistics Unit Covid-19 working group suggests the R rate has plunged below one in the capital.
The R rate refers to the number of people an infected person will pass Covid on to, and experts believe it must be below one for the pandemic to shrink.
According to the Cambridge report released last night, the R rate could be as low as 0.61 in London and 0.64 in the South East. Both regions were put into Tier Four – a de facto lockdown – on December 21.
Meanwhile, other regions which saw relatively stable infection rates prior to lockdown on January 4 have seen the R-rate increase, as the report suggests R is between 1.1 and 1.2 in the South West and North East.
Lead researcher, Professor Daniela De Angelis, said: “The combination of Tier 4 restrictions introduced on the 19th of December and reduced activity over the Christmas period has resulted in decreased transmission.”
But the authors add: “The prevalence of infection remains high and the demand on healthcare services is currently extreme, so continued restrictions are needed to lower these levels and to maintain control over transmission.”
The Cambridge team said they expect deaths to peak “in the coming days”.
Their analysis is supported by new surveillance figures from Public Health England (PHE) which show cases declined between January 4 and 10 in all groups except the over-80s.
While the over-80s are at higher risk of developing serious complications from the virus, younger age groups are more likely to spread the disease – so a drop in the transmission rate among younger people is still a promising sign.
The PHE data also shows that, while London continues to have the highest rate of any region, its rate of new cases stood at 864.9 per 100,000 people in the seven days to January 10, down from 1,043.9 in the previous week.
There was a similar pattern in other areas, with the East Midlands, eastern England, north east England and south east England all recording a week-on-week fall. Yorkshire & the Humber still has the lowest case rate at 297.2, down from 309.9.
However, it is worth noting the Cambridge report diverges from official government estimates issued last week, which put R at between 1 and 1.4 nationally.
Daily deaths also remain high, with the UK reporting over 1,000 fatalities for the third day in a row yesterday, bringing the total to 86,015.
Despite the positive news about case rates, the PHE surveillance report also noted that there were more people being admitted to hospitals and intensive care units.
The time lag between a fall in cases and an impact on the death toll means grim figures are likely to remain a factor for some time.
Professor Neil Ferguson, whose modelling was integral to the first lockdown in March, said yesterday that London may have seen a plateau in hospitalisations – but other areas were seeing an increase.
He told BBC Radio 4: “It looks like in London in particular and a couple of other regions in the South East and East of England, hospital admissions may even have plateaued, though it is hard to tell if they are coming down.
“It has to be said this is not seen everywhere – both case numbers and hospital admissions are going up in many other areas, but overall at a national level we are seeing the rate of growth slow.”
Professor Ferguson added that the UK needs the “highest vaccine coverage possible” before rules are loosened, and “must be very cautious on how we relax restrictions”.
The Cambridge report will come as positive news to Boris Johnson as he mulls whether to tighten lockdown restrictions.
Earlier this week, the PM told MPs at PMQs there were “early signs” that measures were working but refused to definitively rule out clamping down further.
It is understood a fresh clampdown could include an end to click and collect shopping and no longer allowing two adults to meet up outdoors in a public place for exercise.
According to the Daily Mail, ministers are currently focused on increasing compliance, which they fear has waned during the lockdown, rather than tightening restrictions.
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