Even TOUGHER restrictions ‘may be needed’ as lockdown fails to drive down Covid cases, study shows

HARSHER restrictions could be needed after the nation’s biggest Covid infection survey showed lockdown had failed to drive cases down.

The React study by Imperial College London carried out swab tests on 142,900 volunteers between January 6 and 15.

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It shows around one in 63 people now have the virus across England – up 50 per cent on the last report in December.

London was the worst hit area with one in 36 residents of the capital infected with Covid.

Worryingly, it shows cases did not drop over the ten day survey – unlike the start of the previous two lockdowns.

Scientists think the new, more contagious mutation may be to blame, and warn infections may not fall unless we do more.

Lead researcher Professor Paul Elliott, from Imperial College London, said: “Our data are showing worrying suggestions of a recent uptick in infections which we will continue to monitor closely.

“Infections must be brought down; 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.”

However, this morning Gavin Williamson insisted that the pressure on the NHS is being seen.

He told Sky News today: "The evidence that we've been seeing is that it's actually, it has been having an impact in terms of relieving some of that pressure on the NHS."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said sticking to the lockdown rules will help reduce spread.

He 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.

“It is absolutely paramount that everyone plays their part.

"This means staying at home and only going out where absolutely necessary, reducing contact with others and maintaining social distancing.”

Researchers also said it will be weeks before the vaccine rollout has a major influence.

"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 researchers found that the virus is growing and the R rate – the number of people one infected person will pass the virus on to – is at 1.04.

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

National prevalence of the virus increased by half, from 0.91 per cent in early December to 1.58 per cent, the study showed.

While there was a rise in prevalence across all adult age groups, it was highest in 18 to 24 year olds, and more than doubled in the over 65s age group.

London saw the highest regional prevalence, jumping from 1.21 per cent to 2.8 per cent.

There were also rises in the south east, east of England, West Midlands, south west and north west.

The only region to see a decrease was Yorkshire and the Humber, and prevalence remained stable in the East Midlands and north east, but the researchers warned infection numbers are still high even in these areas.

Researchers said that large household size, living in a deprived neighbourhood and areas with higher numbers of black and Asian ethnicity individuals were associated with increased prevalence.

Healthcare workers, care home staff and other key workers were more likely to test positive than other workers.

For the first time the report has mobility data, showing peoples' movement decreased at the end of December and increased at the start of January.

They say that this could help explain the change in prevalence.

Professor Steven Riley, infectious disease expert at Imperial, told Sky: "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.


It comes as hopes of beating Covid mounted last night with record numbers jabbed against the virus – as prayers went out to the 1,820 latest fatalities.

It is the highest number of deaths reported on a single day since the pandemic began.

But in a sign the tide is slowly turning, more than 343,000 people were immunised on Tuesday – up nearly 20,000 on the previous record.

With 4.6million vaccinations already done, Boris Johnson said Britain remains firmly on course to offer jabs to the nation’s 15million most vulnerable within weeks.

Speaking in the Commons, the PM said: “I can confirm that we are on track to deliver our pledge – to deliver a first vaccine to everyone in the top four cohorts by mid-February.

“But I must stress that it is very hard because of constrains on supply.”

It comes as cinemas, mosques and cricket clubs are now set to become pop-up vaccination centres under radical plans to accelerate roll out.

They will form part of a network of hundreds of pharmacies and local sites targeting hard-to-reach Brits.

By the start of next week, 67 chemists will be offering the vaccine as numbers continue to scale up.

Jabs are already available from over 1,000 GP-led services, more than 200 hospitals and 17 mass immunisation centres.

Three cathedrals – Salisbury, Blackburn and Lichfield – are among the sites helping to deliver the vaccination blitz.


Vaccines Minister Nadim Zahawi said: “It’s fantastic to see the vaccine programme expand so fast.

“Each week the NHS is making it easier for people to get a jab closer to home, in places at at the heart of their community, from the local pharmacy to the local mosque.”

Yesterday’s record of 1,820 daily Covid deaths took the UK total to 93,290.

The grim figure led Britain’s top scientist to warn the Covid crisis has left parts of the NHS resembling a “war zone”.

Sir Patrick Vallance said despite falling infections, Britain remains in a very “dangerous situation”.

He said the pressure on the NHS is “very, very bad at the moment…and in some cases it looks like a war zone in terms of the things that people are having to deal with".

“You go for a walk in the park, life looks normal; you go for a walk in a hospital or if you work in a hospital, you will see life not looking normal at all.”

Speaking on Sky News, the chief scientific adviser said lockdown measures may continue well into spring.

He also warned the jab will not do the “heavy lifting” in the short term, with social distancing and hand-washing key to stopping spread.

But Sir Patrick said there was now "light at the end of the tunnel", with a slow release into summer as vaccination eased pressure on hospitals.

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