very high number of people have the coronavirus in England with around 1 in 64 people infected, or 1.57% of the population.

These latest findings from the REACT programme – the biggest and most comprehensive study of community coronavirus testing – are based on swab samples from almost 170,000 people taken between 6th and 22nd January.

In a new report, researchers from Imperial College London estimate R to be around 1, which means that the epidemic is not clearly growing or shrinking and will continue at this high level if the situation doesn’t change. However throughout this round of data collection, patterns of infection have been fluctuating at the national level, with signs of a slight upward trend in the first 10 days – shown in an interim report published last week – followed by a slight decline in the last seven days.

This would suggest that lockdown has curbed the steep rise in infections, although the researchers caution that the country isn’t experiencing the fast rate of decline that happened during the first lockdown. This could be partly explained by the new variant which spreads more easily, alongside other factors such as more people going to work and a higher number of children in school.

There is also a lot of variation across England, with some regions like the South West experiencing a drop in infections, whereas others such as the East Midlands are showing evidence of a rise. Some age groups are also worse affected than others, with those aged 18-24 having the highest number of infections at 2.44%, or 1 in 40.

Professor Paul Elliott, director of the programme at Imperial, said: “The number of people infected with the virus is at the highest level that we’ve recorded since we began testing last May. We’re not seeing the sharp drop in infections that happened under the first lockdown and if infections aren’t brought down significantly, hospitals won’t be able to cope with the number of people that need critical care. We all need to stay at home wherever possible and help bring the virus under control and protect our already over-stretched health system.”


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