Covid cases continue to drop but speed of decline has SLOWED

Covid cases continue to tumble in England: Test and Trace data shows weekly infections fell by 19% to 68,000 amid warning signs the speed of decline is beginning to slow

  • NHS Test and Trace data shows the number of cases testing positive for Covid fell by 19 per cent in a week
  • But the fall was 21 per cent the previous week and 28 per cent the week before, suggesting decline is slowing
  • Matt Hancock pleaded with Britons to continue to stay at home to make sure case numbers keep falling 

Covid cases are continuing to drop in England — but the speed of decline has slowed, another set of official data revealed today.

NHS Test and Trace data showed 68,738 people tested positive for Covid in England between February 18 and 24, an 18.7 per cent decrease compared to the previous week.

But the fall was not as high as that recorded during the previous seven-day spell (21.1 per cent) or the week before that (28.2 per cent), bolstering fears that Covid rates are not dropping as quickly as they were.

It comes after a major surveillance study by Imperial College London academics also claimed the rate of decline in coronavirus cases has slowed, with infections rising in London and the South East. Health Secretary Matt Hancock today urged England to stay vigilant and warned the nation’s ‘hard-won progress’ could be ruined. 

Experts behind the swabbing scheme said the slowdown was likely to be due to more people venturing outside as they anticipate a relaxation of restrictions. 

Concerns have been raised that cases are beginning to level out at high levels, despite plans to begin the easing of lockdown coming into force from Monday when schools finally reopen. Boris Johnson has promised all Covid restrictions will be dropped from June 21, at the earliest.

Covid cases are continuing to drop in England but the speed of decline has slowed. There were 68,738 positive tests in the week ending February 24, down 18.7 per cent on the previous week

NHS Test and Trace figures show nine per cent more people were tested at least once between February 18 and 24, rising from 2.6million to 2.8million.

But positive coronavirus tests fell from 84,546 to 68,738, with numbers continuing to fall. It was the fewest cases recorded in a week since the end of September.

Positive cases have dropped consistently since the week ending January 6, where they peaked at 343,323 before more than halving by the end of the month to 160,901.  

The Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the ‘hard-won’ progress of the last two months could be at risk

The figures comes after Mr Hancock urged England to continue to obey lockdown, following a separate study that showed that the rate at which infections are falling is beginning to slow down. 

Researchers from Imperial College London say 1.57 per cent of the population — one in 64 people — were infected from January 6 to 22. But this plummeted more than two thirds to 0.49 per cent — or one in 204 — from February 6 to 23. 

The Health Secretary said the results were ‘some cause for concern’ that the ‘hard-won progress’ of the last two months could be at risk. ‘It is important we remain vigilant – this is on all of us,’ he added.

‘We have set out a cautious, but irreversible approach to easing restrictions but until we reach each milestone, we must all remember the virus is still here, and still dangerous.

‘Please continue to stay at home – practice hands, face, space – and get your jab when you receive your invite so we can bring down infections further.’

Infection rates were lowest among the over-65s, who are most likely to have been vaccinated.

But the REACT-1 study — a key measure of the UK’s outbreak — warned the rate of decline appeared to be slowing, with the time taken for cases to halve climbing from 15 to 31 days during February. 

The paper is watched closely by ministers because it relies on random swabbing of more than 165,000 people across the country, meaning it may be able to gauge infection rates among people who aren’t going for tests out of fear of being asked to self-isolate.

The study found around 0.5 per cent of English population was carrying coronavirus from February 13 to 26, which was down significantly from the start of the year when it was close to 1.5 per cent – one in every 67 people

The researchers said infection rates were falling in most areas (highlighted in blue on the third map) but rising in some parts, particularly in London and the South East. Hotspots that stood out in earlier versions of the study had faded and new ones emerged, the top maps show

The REACT study saw infection rates coming down in most regions but said there were early signs of an uptick in London and the South East. These were based on only a few days’ data but the researchers said they were 80 per cent sure the trend had reversed. They could not explain why

A prediction made by SAGE sub-group SPI-M at the start of February suggested daily Covid deaths in England would stay above 200 until the end of March but they are already lower. The yellow line shows SPI-M’s prediction, while the red line represents the actual daily death count, calculated as a seven-day average

Lockdown ‘could ease earlier’ in England because Covid deaths are falling FASTER than SAGE predicted thanks to vaccine success 

Covid deaths in England are falling faster than gloomy SAGE advisers thought they would, official data show — and scientists claim lockdown rules could be loosened faster.

Models produced by the SPI-M group of scientists predicting the future of the Covid outbreak in February suggested the daily death count would stay above 200 until mid-March.

But the average number of victims recorded each day had dropped below this level before the end of February, statistics show.

Experts told The Telegraph the progress is ‘better than expected’ and suggested the Government’s ‘data not dates’ approach could see relaxations brought forward. 

The vaccine rollout has made immense progress, with 20million people now vaccinated across the UK, and studies suggest the jabs are working better than expected, preventing between 85 and 94 per cent of hospitalisations.

SPI-M’s prediction was more pessimistic about how well the vaccine would work and whether it would stop transmission, which may explain why its estimates are gloomier than the reality.

Under current plans, schools will reopen next Monday, and people will be allowed to meet in groups of six outdoors from March 29.

The survey also suggested the R rate — a measure of how many people an infected person passes the virus on to — is around 0.86 and ‘reliably’ below one, indicating the epidemic is shrinking.

The paper says prevalence dropped ‘substantially’ overall during January and early February but ‘remains high’.

Infection rates vary around the country, with an apparent fall in cases in four regions during February, no change in one and a rise in London and the South East.

It continued: ‘Continued adherence to social distancing and public health measures is required so that infection rates fall to much lower levels.

‘This will help to ensure that the benefits of the vaccination roll-out programme in England are fully realised.’

The study says there is clear progress but warns: ‘Any large uptick in the prevalence of infections would signal a potential threat to the smooth continuation of the roadmap.

The report said: ‘But with high vaccine uptake and encouraging early estimates of vaccine efficacy, the link between infections and strain on healthcare services will likely be weakened in the near future.’

Imperial’s Professor Steven Riley said the pace of the roadmap ‘seems about right’.

He added: ‘What we need is to keep infections really low, so that people who will get offered a vaccine, three or four weeks from now or six weeks from now don’t get infected just before they get the vaccine because for those people that amazing vaccine story won’t have done that much.’

Professor Paul Elliott, also from Imperial, said: ‘People might think that they can just relax because the vaccine programme is going so well but there is still a lot of virus out there.

‘If people just change their behaviours a little bit then they are going to be more at risk of getting infection, because it’s all about social contact, social distancing.

‘So I think we just, in a very cautious way need to continue – but we need to keep monitoring what’s happening to the virus in the population.

‘It does need to get a lot lower than one in 200.’

He added: ‘We’re still in lockdown. We’re going through a cautious easing of lockdown, with taking stock, looking at interventions, and then having a chance to look at the effect of those interventions on the spread of the virus.

‘So I would be very hopeful that it will continue to go down and, it does need to go down because it is still too high.’

Prevalence in February ranged from 0.21 per cent in those aged 65 and over to 0.71 per cent in those aged 13 to 17.

The report detail rates among different ethnicities and occupations for the first time.

It found rates were highest among Pakistani participants at 2.1 per cent, compared with 0.45 per cent among those who are white and 0.45 per cent who are black.

Those who work from home are a third less likely to catch the virus.

This ‘stresses the importance of working from home during lockdown where possible to minimise social contacts and hence reduce the risk of transmission’, the report warns.

The findings have not been peer-reviewed or published in a journal.  

Infection rates among age groups plummeted between January (grey) and February (orange and red), the study found, but the decline had slowed significantly since then

Most regions saw a huge drop in infections when lockdown hit, with early case rates in grey and later ones in orange and red

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