Covid: Growth in Covid cases ‘may be levelling off’

Coronavirus swab test Image copyright Getty Images

There is more evidence suggesting the growth in coronavirus cases could be levelling off in England and Wales.

Data from three different analyses show new infections may be rising more slowly than in previous weeks – but it’s still too early to confirm.

The R number, which reflects a general trend and not today’s picture, has risen again to 1.3-1.6.

More restrictions have come into effect in parts of England and remain in place in some areas of Wales.

The government’s scientific advisers, Sage, say it is still “highly likely” that the epidemic is growing exponentially across the country.

The R or reproduction number is a measure of how many other people each person with the virus is infecting, so an R between 1.3 and 1.6 means that on average every 10 people infected will infect between 13 and 16 other people.

In March, before any control measures were put in place, R was thought to be just under three.

An Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey estimates there were 8,400 new cases per day in England in the week to 24 September – slightly down on the previous week’s estimate of 9,600 daily cases.

This would equate to around one in 500 people now having the virus in England, and also in Wales.

“There is some limited evidence that the incidence rate may be levelling off, following steep increases during August and early September,” the ONS says.

Early estimates for Northern Ireland suggest one in 400 people have the virus there.

Scientists behind the Covid Symptoms Study app said their data also suggests the number of new Covid cases in the UK has “flattened” in the last four days.

They estimate there were nearly 21,000 new cases per day on average over the two weeks up to 28 September, with numbers highest in the north of England and in people under 30.

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London and founder of the app, said higher numbers of younger people being infected now compared to in spring “may explain why the pressures on the NHS are less”.

These two analyses of the spread of the virus mirror the findings of the React Study which found that, although cases are still high, the growth of the virus may be slowing down in England.

It said this could be due to measures like the “rule of six” being introduced.

The ONS’s estimates of how much of the population is currently infected are based on testing a representative sample of people in households with or without symptoms.

It is different to the number published daily by the Department of Health and Social Care. That records positive cases in people with potential Covid symptoms who request tests.

On Thursday, testing detected 6,914 new cases of the virus, government figures show. This is down slightly on previous days and way below the number at the peak of the pandemic.

But in general, cases have been rising slowly since the end of August.

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