People rushing to see each other before England’s second national lockdown came into force could have triggered a surge of coronavirus cases, scientists suggest.
Imperial College London researchers found infections surged at the beginning of November, after plateauing and dropping in some places in the weeks before.
They say more people could have passed the disease in the final days of October, but this wouldn’t have been picked up until the start of lockdown as symptoms can take several days to show.
While it is not certain it was caused by last minute trips to see friends and family before the four week lockdown came into force on November 5, they point out the plans were leaked to the media on October 30.
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The study’s chairman Professor Paul Elliot told Sky News: ‘There was a lot of speculation on Friday. It’s very tight timing, but something happened.’
REACT tests more than 100,000 randomly selected people to make estimates about the state of England’s outbreak.
Its latest study, covering October 16 to November 2, shows how rapidly infections grew in every age group during mid to late October.
By the end of the month, scientists estimate 100,000 new people were catching Covid-19 every day.
Infections began to slow in the final days of October, which researchers say could be partly due to the three tier ‘traffic light’ system.
But cases then jumped again right at the start of lockdown, with estimated daily cases back up to around 100,000.
Experts said infections rose sharply across England, with more than one in 80 people infected, double that reported in early October
Professor Elliot says it is still not clear exactly why things took a turn for the worse, but people rushing out to see each other is one theory.
It comes after the UK recorded its highest highest daily number of coronavirus cases since the pandemic began amid concern that infections are rising quickly among the elderly.
Another 33,470 lab-confirmed cases of Covid-19 were recorded in the 24 hours before 9am yesterday, according to the latest Government figures.
A further 563 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus.
Medical director at Public Health England Dr Yvonne Doyle said the highest rates of infections were among younger generations.
But she said: ‘Worryingly it is rising quickly in those over 80 who are most at risk of poor outcomes.
‘The current measures are in place to help protect all of us, and anyone can suffer serious illness from this virus.
‘The majority of cases reported today were from tests carried out on the 9th and 10th of November, which includes infections acquired in the days leading up to new measures on the 5th November.
‘Limiting contact with others will help to stop the spread of the virus and protect the people we love.’
However, Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England’s medical director, played down the increase at a Downing Street press conference yesterday evening.
He said: ‘It is important to look at the number of cases reported over a number of days and not just take one day in isolation.
‘It is clear that infection rates have been going up. What is really important is to get those infection rates down.’
He said it was ‘too early to say’ whether England’s national lockdown was having an effect, but warned people not to expect life to return to normal when restrictions are lifted on December 2.
Professor Powis added: ‘We will not be going back completely to normal – there will need to be other measures in place because while this virus is still here, we need to ensure that infection rates stay as low as possible and that we reduce the chance of transmission.’
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