Coronavirus infections are largely levelling off in England although prevalence remains high, data suggests, as 99% of the country prepares to enter the two strictest tiers of control measures from next week.
Government data shows 18,213 people in England were reported to have tested positive for coronavirus on Wednesday, down from a high of 33,470 on 12 November. Reported deaths reached a second-wave peak of 604 on Wednesday – although trends in the number of deaths typically lag behind changes in case numbers.
Cases were falling in every English region between 19-21 November compared with a week earlier, according to data by specimen date, while test-and-trace figures show 8.8% of those tested having a positive result between 12-18 November, down from 9.6% the previous week.
Experts cautioned that such data might not give the full picture, however – not least as only symptomatic people are advised to get a test, while daily figures are also affected by the number of tests carried out in different areas.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) data from a survey of randomly selected households shows the positivity rate appeared to be levelling off in England in the week to 21 November, with about one in 85 people in the community thought to have Covid – a similar figure to the week before.
Cases are rising once again among secondary-school-aged children, although they have levelled off or fallen in other age groups, and there are regional variations, experts said.
“Over the last week, positivity rates have continued to increase in London, the east of England and the south-east. However, rates now appear to be decreasing in the north-west and the east Midlands,” the team reported.
Similarly, data released by the MRC Biostatistics Unit estimates that on 22 November, R (the reproduction number) was about 1 in most regions, and less than 1 in north-east England and Yorkshire and the north-west, although it could be above 1 in the south-east.
The number of deaths occurring each day has already reached a peak in most regions, data suggests – although delays in reporting mean figures may appear to increase for some weeks.
While Prof Daniela De Angelis, the programme leader and deputy director of the unit, said R was lower in all regions than the week before, she cautioned against relaxing restrictions too far.
“We remain concerned that R may not have fallen to a level sufficiently below 1, which strongly suggests that effective measures to control infection rates must continue to be in place after the end of the current lockdown period,” she said.
Prof Tim Spector of King’s College London, the lead scientist on the Zoe Covid Symptom Study app, said the latest data based on swab results from users of the app over the two weeks up to 22 November reveals that the nationwide R value is now about 0.9.
He voiced dismay at the new restrictions. “I’m disappointed to see so many regions going into tier 3 when the latest data suggests that symptomatic cases are continuing to fall,” he said. “We need to consider more carefully the wider physical, social and mental health implications of excessive mandatory restrictions if they are not justified by the recent data.”