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The number of people testing positive for coronavirus has begun to level off in some parts of England and may have peaked in others, experts have said.
There are now more Covid patients in hospital in the UK, and more on mechanical ventilation, than in the first wave of the pandemic. However, experts say the tide might be beginning to turn on infections.
According to analysis of data by the MRC biostatistics unit at Cambridge University, the number of infections in England overall is declining. Infections are still on the rise in the south-west and the north-east but appear to have plateaued in the East and West Midlands and are falling in regions including London and the south-east.
The R number for London, indicating the average number of people to whom an infected person passes the virus, is estimated by the team to be around 0.6.
The team say the trends are likely to reflect a drop in the spread of the virus following the introduction of tier 4 restrictions, school holidays and reduced movement over the festive period, but the impact of the national lockdown has yet to become apparent.
Despite the positive signs, they say measures to reduce the spread of the disease will be needed for some time. “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,” they say.
According to government figures, the number of people testing positive for coronavirus in the UK (by date reported) reached a high of 68,053 on 8 January and has since fallen, with 48,682 new cases reported on Thursday.
Prof Karl Friston of University College London, who is a member of the Independent Sage group of experts, said it appeared that new cases had now reached their peak for the nation as a whole.
“It is difficult to directly interpret the reported cases because fluctuations in reported cases depend upon the number of virus tests conducted – and self-selection sampling bias. However, when you model the underlying incidence and prevalence, then it looks as if new cases have now peaked,” he said.
“This is further confirmed by a number of other metrics that look as if they are peaking,” he added referring to data from sources such as the Covid symptom study, led by King’s College London, which suggests the R number across the UK is now 0.9, with cases slowly beginning to fall in England and Wales. Friston said modelling of real-time parameters also suggested the R number was now below 1.
But Dr Michael Tildesley, of the University of Warwick, who is part of the SPI-M modelling group that feeds into the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said more time was needed before it becomes clear how case numbers are changing.
“There are early signals in the south-east and London that spread may be slowing but there is still a lot of uncertainty around this,” he said. Tildesley urged caution about drawing conclusions about falls in new cases over small areas when there are rises in other nearby local authorities. “We really need to see longer-term trends across these regions to have confidence that cases are falling.”
Dr Kit Yates, a co-director of the Centre for Mathematical Biology at the University of Bath and a member of Independent Sage, agreed. “I think we probably need to wait a couple more days to see whether we expect a plateau or a fall [in national rates] as the impact of schools going back and people going back to work [is seen],” he said.
“Although schools are supposed to be closed, we are hearing of many schools with far more kids attending than in the first lockdown, which will contribute to the spread. That impact will be beginning to be felt around now in cases numbers. If things continue to fall over the next couple of days then we can be more confident that the current lockdown is enough to bring R below 1.”
Prof Steven Riley, of Imperial College London, who is also part of SPI-M, said it was important to see how quickly cases fell. “In order to take pressure off the NHS, we need to get to low prevalence in the community as quickly as possible. A slow decline is going to lead to very high levels of Covid patients in hospitals for a prolonged period,” he said.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Covid infections may have peaked in parts of England, experts say | Coronavirus