Covid cases WERE already falling in children before half-term

Covid cases WERE already falling in children before half-term: Official data shows infections tumbled by up to 13.5% in under-18s in England last week ‘in sign of mass natural protection’

  • England’s weekly national surveillance report found cases in 10 to 19-year-olds dropped before half-term
  • The same trend was also observed among 5 to 9-year-olds and 0 to 4-year-olds in the country
  • MailOnline analysis suggested earlier this week that Covid cases in children started falling before half-term
  • Experts said this suggests the virus may be coming up against a wall of immunity in the age group 

Covid cases started falling in children before half-term, official data revealed today after scientists said they were gaining high levels of natural immunity due to the back-to-school surge. 

England’s weekly national surveillance report found cases in 10 to 19-year-olds fell more than a tenth last week from 1,388 to 1,201 cases per 100,000 people.

For 5 to 9-year-olds it dipped 8.5 per cent (732 to 670 per 100,000), while among 0 to 4-year-olds it dropped more than six per cent (166 to 156). 

The report also showed half of council areas in England, or 74 out of 149, saw their Covid infections dip last week in another sign cases are on the downturn.

MailOnline analysis suggested earlier this week that cases started falling in children before half-term began, with infections peaking on Tuesday last week.

Experts said this was likely to be the case because children had built-up immunity following the back-to-school wave, when infections soared to their highest level in the group since the pandemic began.

But they cautioned youngsters may have been more lax about testing themselves for the virus in the run-up to the holidays, which could be behind the drop in infections. School children are required to swab themselves for the virus twice a week and report the results to Test and Trace.

SAGE scientist and epidemiologist Professor John Edmunds said this week the spike in infections among children ‘will eventually lead to high levels of immunity in children’, which will see cases plateau and then fall. He added that it ‘may be that we’re achieving that now’.

The above graph shows Covid cases in England by age group. It reveals that infections are now falling among 10 to 19-year-olds (green line, top circle), 5 to 9-year-olds (blue line, second circle) and 0 to 4-year-olds (black line). Cases rose in all other age groups, but the drop in children is a positive sign because it will stop them spreading it to other groups

The above graph shows the Covid infection rate per 100,000 people by regions of England. As many as five out of nine regions saw infections fall in the week to October 24

The above graph shows Covid infection rates per 100,000 people in England divided by age group. It reveals that cases in 5 to 19-year-olds may have peaked and have now begun to fall. But in all other age groups they were still rising

Officials do not collect data on antibody levels among under-16s. But for those aged 16 to 24-years-old they found 95.6 per cent had antibodies against the virus (top left, green line) despite only 81.4 per cent (top left, blue line) having been vaccinated. Vaccines are now available for 12 to 15-year-olds, but it is likely many already have immunity from past infection

The above graph shows the number of lateral flow tests carried out daily. It reveals that over the two weeks before half term the number completed remained similar, at around 550,000 a day 

Children’s immunity has been sparked almost entirely by natural infections. Vaccines — which are the only other way to get protection against the virus — were only offered to 16 and 17-year-olds in August, and then to 12 to 15-year-olds from September 20.

It comes after daily Covid infections in the UK fell for four days in a row. And optimisitic modelling from SAGE has claimed infections may slump to the 5,000 mark over the coming months, even without No10 caving in to demands for virus control measures.

Some scientists, medics and Labour are calling for the UK to change course and implement Plan B, which would see face masaks and working from home guidance reimposed and vaccine passports introduced.

Department of Health data suggests Covid infections among school children peaked before half term began.

Scientists have suggested that this could have been caused by rising immunity in the age group, or a reduction in Covid testing.

Antibody levels 

SAGE scientists have suggested rising antibody levels in children could be behind the fall in cases. 

No vaccine was offered to children before they returned to school, meaning only those who had previously caught the virus had protection against it.

But following a huge back to school wave the number of children with Covid-fighting antibodies has been boosted, meaning more are protected against the virus.

Those aged 12 to 15 were also offered one dose of a Covid vaccine from September 20 to ensure more of them had protection.

But uptake has been slow and the vaccination drive has been sluggish. 

Some 12 per cent of 12 to 15-year-olds have been vaccinated so far, according to figures from the UK Health Security Agency.

Covid testing

Scientists have also suggested that a drop in Covid testing could be behind the suggested fall in infections in school children.

Children are required to swab themselves twice a week for the virus using lateral flow tests, and report the results to Test and Trace.

Some have suggested the number of tests carried out may have dropped ahead of the holidays as people became more relaxed about taking them.

But Department of Health data suggests a similar number of lateral flow tests were completed over the two weeks before half term, averaging about 550,000 a day.

The vast majority of England’s schools broke up for the holidays this Monday.

But there is a small group — such as schools in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire — which broke up the previous Monday for two weeks. This may have influenced the data. 

But No10 has so far held its nerve saying the NHS is not under ‘unsustainable’ pressure. Whitehall sources said amid falling infections ministers were only ’20 per cent likely’ to impose any more curbs.

The UK Health Security Agency — which took over from the now-defunct Public Health England — publishes a weekly report monitoring the spread of Covid and other viruses in the country.

This week’s showed Covid cases were falling among under-19s in the week to October 24, before half-term began, but they were still rising in other age groups.

Nonetheless the drop in the youngest age groups is a positive sign because it suggests they could soon fall in other age groups that children are passing the virus on to.  

Those aged 10 to 19 have the highest infection rate in England, followed by 5 to 9-year-olds and those aged 40 to 49 (593 cases per 100,000 people).

Covid cases also dropped in five of England’s nine regions. The sharpest drops were in the Midlands (down 10 per cent to 450.6 per 100,000), Yorkshire and the Humber (down 9.8 per cent to 440.4) and the North West (down 7.3 per cent to 427). The South West had the highest infection rate (665.9) following a bungled operation at a testing lab which led to many infected people being wrongly told they did not have the virus.

Department of Health data also points to a fall in Covid cases among children before the half-term break began.

Its seven-day average infection rate in secondary school children aged 10 to 14 peaked on Tuesday last week at 1,925.2 per 100,000. By Friday, the latest date available, it had fallen to 1,814.6.

For 15 to 19-year-olds their infection rate peaked at 861.3 per 100,000, but on October 22 it had dropped to 827.5 per 100,00. And for 5 to 9-year-olds it dropped from a peak of 760.7 on Tuesday to 726 by Friday.

Professor Paul Hunter told MailOnline: ‘There is a sign that cases may be going down. If you look at the running seven-day average, they are still going up but rather more slowly than they were a few days ago.

‘This is around about a week before half-term started, so there might be some element of reduced testing in children because they were coming to the school holiday period. 

‘So, you’ve got to be a bit cautious about that, but certainly the basic figures look as though case numbers have started to decline in all children under 20.’

There is no age breakdown on testing data, but the figures suggest there was not a significant drop off in the number of lateral flow tests carried out over the last two weeks with around 550,000 completed every day. Secondary school children in England are asked to test themselves for the virus twice a week. 

Asked whether the drop was likely to be sustained, Professor Hunter added: ‘I don’t know for certain, but I would think it probably will be sustained. 

‘[But] I would not bet the house on it in terms of if it is sustained how long will it be sustained for and how deeply it will drop.’

Professor Edmunds told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this week that the consensus among modellers was that cases would either level off or start to drop in the coming weeks.

He said: ‘That’s because the epidemic in the last few months has been really driven by huge numbers of cases in children. I mean really huge numbers of cases in children. And that will eventually lead to high levels of immunity in children and it may be that we’re achieving that now.

‘Achieving I think is the wrong word, but it might be we’re getting to high levels of immunity in children through these really high rates of infection we’ve had and it may start to level off.’

But Professor Edmunds warned models presented to ministers also suggest cases could rise again in the spring due to waning immunity and a return to normality.

He said booster doses — currently given to over-50s, healthcare workers and those with underlying conditions — should be dished out as fast as possible to address waning immunity and rising infections.

And they should be offered to younger people ‘in time’, Professor Edmunds said. 

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