Interim results from the seventh report of one of the country’s largest studies into COVID-19 infections in England have been published by Imperial College London and Ipsos MORI.
Over 105,000 volunteers were tested in England between 13 and 24 November as part of the REACT study, to examine the levels of infection in the general population.
The findings show cases were rising as the country entered lockdown but this was followed by a decrease as national measures successfully lowered infection rates across the country. This supports findings from SAGE that stronger measures would be needed in some areas to prevent the epidemic from growing and that local tiers needed to be toughened to keep the virus under control once national measures end this week.
Infections fell by over 50% in the North West and North East, with prevalence highest in the West Midlands, East Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber.
While gains have been made to bring down infections, prevalence of the disease remains high with around 1 in 100 people testing positive compared to 1 in 80 between 16 October and 2 November.
The main findings from the seventh REACT study show that between 13 and 24 November:
- 96 people per 10,000 infected, down from 132 per 10,000 between 26 October and 2 November
- the virus was halving every 37 days
- the national R rate was estimated to be 0.88
- prevalence halved in the North West (1.08% down from 2.53%) and North East (0.72% down from 1.88%), and fell in Yorkshire and The Humber (1.17% down from 1.8%)
- prevalence remained high in the East Midlands (1.27% down from 1.31%), and West Midlands (1.55% down from 1.56%), where rates are now the highest in the country meaning 155 people per 10,000 have the virus
- people of Asian ethnicity had increased odds of testing positive compared with white people
- people living in the most deprived neighbourhoods had higher odds of testing positive than those living in less deprived neighbourhoods
- there is an increase in prevalence among people living in the largest households
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: "This latest data shows we must keep our resolve and we cannot afford to take our foot off the pedal just yet, despite the encouraging fall in cases and progress on vaccines. The next few weeks and months are the busiest time of year for our NHS, so it’s vital we all continue to follow new local restrictions, wash our hands, wear a face covering and observe social distancing."
Professor Paul Elliott, director of the programme at Imperial, said: "Our robust data offers encouraging signs for England’s epidemic, where we’re seeing a fall in infections at the national level and in particular across regions that were previously worst affected. These trends suggest that the tiered approach helped to curb infections in these areas and that lockdown has added to this effect. As we approach a challenging time of year, it’s even more vital that through our actions and behaviours we all play our part in helping to keep the virus at bay."