Data even points to worrying signs of recent uptick in COVID-19 contagion
England’s strict lockdown that was introduced on Jan 6 because a previous partial lockdown had failed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus has also failed to suppress transmissions, worrying new evidence suggests.
The bleak news is contained in the latest results of an ongoing study being conducted by Imperial College London at the behest of the British government into the proliferation of the virus and the COVID-19 disease it causes.
The data from the React-1 study found the prevalence of the virus remains “very high, with no evidence of decline” despite the lockdown.
The researchers looked at the results of 142,900 nose and throat swabs taken throughout England from a representative sample of the population between Jan 6 and Jan 15.
Paul Elliott, one of the leaders of the study, told the Financial Times there was even “worrying suggestions of a recent uptick in infections”.
“If prevalence continues at the high rate we are seeing, then hospitals will continue to be put under immense pressure, and more and more lives will be lost,” he said.
The analysis concluded that the R rate, which approximately equates to the number of people being infected by an infected person, now stands at around 1.04; indicating a worsening situation.
The scientists said around 1.58 percent of England’s 56 million people had the virus at the time the swabs were taken, which was double the number infected during the last round of testing in late November and early December.
In hard-hit London, almost 3 percent of the population had the virus.
The latest results from the React-1 study will have been a bitter disappointment to the British government because other studies have recently suggested the number of people being infected with the virus was starting to fall; news that would have been welcomed by the nation’s overstretched hospitals.
Those more optimistic reports included results from the government-run testing of people with symptoms, and a study based on information from the National Health Service’s symptom-tracking app.
However, the React-1 study is considered to be the leader in its field because it tests a large number of people who have been carefully chosen to represent the nation’s population.
Because it does not focus on people who have symptoms, it also better reflects the total number of cases by picking up asymptomatic infections.
Matt Hancock, the UK’s health secretary, said the latest study shows “why we must not let down our guard over the weeks to come”.
The BBC said the scientists behind the React-1 study believe the plateauing of the number of infections, or their possible slight rise, was down to people who are unable to work from home returning to their workplace after the Christmas and New Year vacations while a new, more infections strain of the virus was coming to prominence.
But the broadcaster said some government ministers believe the React-1 study does not tell the whole story and that the impact of the lockdown, the nation’s third, will become apparent.
Pallab Ghosh, the BBC’s science correspondent, said the disappointing results could, however, trigger the introduction of a stricter lockdown, something the UK’s education secretary, Gavin Williamson, insisted will not happen.
The Daily Mail quoted Williamson as saying some scientists believe there is “quite a strong possibility that the React-1 estimates are not very accurate”.
He told Sky News: “The evidence that we’ve been seeing is that, actually, (the lockdown) has been having an impact, in terms of relieving some of that pressure on the NHS so the NHS is able to cope. But, of course, the government always looks at all the evidence that’s available.”
In the meantime, the UK is continuing to vaccinate people as quickly as possible, with the almost 2 million jabs dished out last week taking the total to 4.61 million as of Tuesday evening. With many healthcare workers and people aged 80 and older now having had their vaccinations, the injection is being rolled out to people aged 70 and older, and to those deemed extremely clinical vulnerable.
After the nation recorded 1,820 daily deaths attributed to COVID-19 on Wednesday-a new record-Home Secretary Priti Patel told the BBC ministers are considering also prioritizing the jab for police officers and other frontline workers.
So far, COVID-19 has directly claimed at least 93,290 lives in the UK.