Four key takeaways from the study that dented lockdown lifting plans

Researchers find level of infections are stable or rising slightly

A paramedic moves a stretcher at St Thomas' Hospital, London
(Image credit: Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

Scientists at Imperial College London (ICL) have found “no strong evidence” that high Covid-19 infection rates fell during the first ten days of the latest national lockdown.

Just days after government data suggested that shutdown measures had caused a dip in infections, a study by ICL suggests that new infections are now stable, and possibly even growing slightly in parts of the country.

The findings come just a day after Boris Johnson was revealed to be privately planning for the end of the current shutdown, with Easter mooted as the potential end date for the measures.

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1. Infections on the up

The ICL team took swab tests from more than 142,000 people across England between 6 and 15 January. They found that infections were up by 50% on early December, with one in 63 people infected.

A total of 1.58% of the population had the virus during early January, up from 0.91% in December. This suggests that already stretched hospitals will see admissions “keep increasing for several weeks”, the Daily Mail says.

2. Regional variations

Researchers also found that infection rates vary widely across the country. Cases have plateaued in London and the east of England, the study says, but were found to be falling more rapidly in the south west, where the R number is estimated to be 0.37. Cases are rising in Yorkshire and the East Midlands.

Despite the rate of infection stabilising in London, levels of the virus are still highest in the capital, with 2.8% of respondents testing positive. Infections are lowest in the south west, with 0.53% testing positive.

3. Accurate picture

The researchers believe their data may be ahead of Office for National Statistics figures because their survey tests people routinely rather than picking up infections after people have developed symptoms and gone through the process of getting a test. However, the ICL team also admits there is some uncertainty in their data amid a “fast-changing situation”.

4. Tougher measures

BBC science correspondent Pallab Ghosh points out that the results are “just one set of figures over a short number of days” so a “more optimistic picture” could emerge when a fuller report is published next week.

However, he adds, “there is no getting away from the fact that ministers will be disappointed not to have seen a fall at this stage” and “unless things change, even tougher measures will have to be considered”.

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