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Coronavirus Infection Rates Could Have Seen A "Recent Uptick", A New Study Warns

The study suggest lockdown did not have a significant impact on cases in the early stages

3 min read

A major study led by Imperial College London has found that coronavirus infections did not slow and may have actually increased during the first 10 days of the latest national lockdown measures.

The ongoing REACT-1 study, conducted between 6 and 15 January, suggested that one in 65 people in England were infected with the virus, an increase of 50% on a similar survey in early December.

The study, which takes samples from over 100,000 random people picked each month found the prevalence of the virus was highest in London, with one in 36 testing positive.

The latest data is at odds with figures recently released by Public Health England, which showed weekly cases were falling in every age group apart from the over-80s, with the R-rate - the average number of people each infected person passes the disease onto - dropping to 0.6 in parts of London and the South East.

The Imperial researchers said the government's daily case totals may now be reflecting a drop in cases just after Christmas, and that further rises could come as result of people's behaviour in early January.

However, the monthly nature of the study means they lack data for mid-late December, leading to calls for it to be viewed alongside other data being gathered for the period.

Oliver Johnson, director of the institute of statistical science at the University of Bristol, told The Times: "This is one piece of data that fits into our understanding of the pandemic, though all these numbers are subject to random noise and lags."

Data from the full study are set to be published next week, but Professor Paul Elliot, director of the programme said the numbers showed "worrying suggestions of a recent uptick in infections".

"To prevent our already stretched health system from becoming overwhelmed infections must be brought down; if prevalence continue at the high rate we are seeing then hospitals will continue to be put under immense pressure, and more and more lives will be lost," he added.

"We all have a part of play in preventing this situation from worsening and must do our best to stay at home wherever possible."

But Professor Elliot admitted the pandemic was a "fast-moving situation" as they suggested there was some uncertainty around their results.

The latest analysis comes after Britain recorded its two highest daily death tolls since the pandemic began, with 1,610 deaths recorded on Tuesday and a further 1,820 on Wednesday.

Cases also rose sharply again yesterday to 38,905 following a dip earlier in the week which had led to some optimism that the lockdown measures were having an impact.

But responding to the Imperial Study, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the findings showed "why we must not let down our guard over the weeks to come".

He added: "Infections across England are at very high levels and this will keep having a knock-on effect on the already significant pressures faced by our NHS and hospitals.

"It is absolutely paramount that everyone plays their part to bring down infections."

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