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Covid Infections Still At Lowest Level Since September As R Rate Stays Down After School Re-Opening

The expected impact on Covid cases with the reopening of schools has not yet been felt (Alamy)

3 min read

The number of people with Covid-19 in England is at its lowest level since late September as the re-opening of schools appears to have so far had minimal impact on spreading the virus.

The coronavirus reproduction number, or R value, across the UK rose only slightly to between 0.7 to 0.9, up from 0.6 to 0.9 last week. Schools returned on 8 March. 

But importantly it remains below the all-important figure of 1, which means the epidemic is in retreat, with the latest growth rate at between -5% to -2%, meaning new infections are shrinking by between 2% and 5% every day.

Latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show around one in 340 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to 20 March.

This is unchanged on the previous week, matching the lowest figure since the week to 24 September last year, when it stood at one in 470 people.

The ONS said the percentage of people testing positive "is likely to have levelled off".

Experts had been braced for a rise in Covid cases after schools in England re-opened on 8 March, but even allowing for a two-week delay in infections this increase has not emerged so far.

The modelling broken up by age group shows rates of infection increased among secondary school-aged children (school years 7 to 11), but fell among older teenagers and young adults (school year 12 to age 34).

It is hoped that despite a likely rise in Covid-19 infections as the UK starts opening up again that mass vaccination will mean hospitalisations and deaths will remain low. 

New research published today by Oxford University and Sheffield University, found a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine generates a strong immunity response against the virus.

The Protective Immunity from T cells to Covid-19 in Health workers study (PITCH) tested 237 healthcare workers antibody responses - and discovered a "robust" reaction in 99% of them.It suggests one dose of the vaccine protects against severe disease, supporting the government’s controversial decision to delay the second dose and provide protection to as many higher-risk groups as possible by providing more people with a first jab.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “The PITCH study presents further proof that vaccines provide excellent protection against the virus.

"Thanks to the incredible efforts of our vaccination programme, over half of all adults in the UK have had the jab, and we remain on track to offer all adults a vaccine by the end of July.

 “The vaccine has already saved thousands of lives in the UK. A second vaccine jab is crucial for longer-term protection, regardless of whether you have previously had Covid-19 or not, and I urge everyone to make sure they attend their second appointment – to keep themselves and those around them safe.”

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