COVID-19: No decline in coronavirus infections in first days of latest lockdown, major study shows

Coronavirus infections did not slow down and may have increased instead in the first days of the latest national lockdown, a major ongoing study has found.

Researchers also said it will be weeks before the vaccine rollout has a substantial effect.

The study from REACT-1 at Imperial College in London said: “During the initial 10 days of the third COVID-19 lockdown… prevalence of COVID-19 was very high with no evidence of decline.”

Programme director Professor Paul Elliot went further, saying: “Our data are showing worrying suggestions of a recent uptick in infections which we will continue to monitor closely.”

The survey, conducted between 6 and 15 January, suggests one in 63 people were infected across England, an increase of 50% on the last survey in early December.

Prevalence was highest in London with one in 36 people infected.

The researchers warned that at the current number of cases, there would only be continued pressure on the NHS.

“Until prevalence in the community is reduced substantially, health services will remain under extreme pressure and the cumulative number of lives lost during this pandemic will continue to increase rapidly.”

The study takes samples from more than 100,000 people picked at random each month.

The findings come after the highest number of COVID related deaths since the pandemic began were reported on two successive days this week.

1820 fatalities were reported on Wednesday, after 1610 more deaths were announced on Tuesday.

The government’s daily figures for confirmed infections shows a decline over the same period – from a high of 68,053 on 8 January to a low of 45,533 on 12 January.

The Imperial College study also examined the effect of the vaccine rollout and concluded it would not have a major influence for weeks to come.

“Even though safe and effective vaccines are being deployed in many populations, the majority of those most at-risk of severe COVID-19 will not be protected until late spring,” it said.

The study found that the virus is growing and the R number – or rate of transmission remains just above 1 – at 1.04.

That means that every 100 people will pass the virus on to 104 people.

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Professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College Steven Riley said: “I would have expected in these data to have seen a pretty good downward trend if the lockdown was very effective… over a similar period in the first lockdown we did get a very clear signal of decline.

“The current lockdown is not nearly so effective as the first so I think it’s partly that the lockdown isn’t causing as much of a change in behaviour, but the findings are also consistent with this variant being more transmissible.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said that the report does not yet reflect the impact of national lockdown.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “These findings show why we must not let down our guard over the weeks to come.

“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.”

The report comes as a mosque in Birmingham and a cinema in Aylesbury join high street pharmacies, hotels and sports cubs as part of the NHS’s largest immunisation programme.

Another 65 vaccination sites are opening on high streets this week.

More than four million people had received a first dose of the vaccine up to 19 January, government figures show.

Initially targeted at those aged 80 or over along with care home residents and staff, the programme has since been expanded to all those aged 70 and over and the clinically vulnerable.

NHS Deputy Chief Pharmaceutical Officer Bruce Warner said: “After our successful launch in pharmacies last week, scores more sites are now offering the life-saving jab.

“As more vaccine supply comes online, we will be able to open even more helping us to vaccinate vulnerable people even faster.”

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