Covid-19 cases doubling twice as fast in north of England, study claims

9 October 2020, 16:10

Door staff in PPE and people outside Market Shaker in the Bigg Market area of Newcastle
Door staff in PPE and people outside Market Shaker in the Bigg Market area of Newcastle. Picture: PA

By Matt Drake

Covid cases are doubling twice as fast in the north of England compared to the rest of the country, according to the largest Covid-19 study of its kind.

Experts behind the React study suggested the rate of growth of the epidemic across England has slowed in the last month, but the country was now at a "critical point in the second wave".

It comes as separate data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that 224,400 people in England had coronavirus between September 25 and October 1, equating to about one in 240 people.

The figure is almost double the 116,600 people who were estimated to have Covid-19 in the previous week.

The ONS said cases "have increased rapidly".

Scientists advising the Government put the current R value - the number of people an infected person will pass coronavirus on to - for the whole of the UK at between 1.2 and 1.5.

This is down slightly on last week when it was between 1.3 and 1.6.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said it was "almost certain that the epidemic continues to grow exponentially across the country, and is confident that the transmission is not slowing."

READ MORE: Further Covid restrictions in London 'inevitable' soon, Sadiq Khan warns

In the React study, experts from Imperial College London warned that current measures such as the rule of six and restrictions in the north of England will not be enough to bring the epidemic under control.

They said "further fixed-duration measures should be considered to reduce the infection rate and limit the numbers of hospital admissions and deaths from Covid-19".

The report looked at Covid-19 swabs from 174,949 volunteers tested across England between September 18 and Monday this week.

It found cases are doubling every 29 days in England, much slower than the 13 days estimated for the period mid August to early September, resulting in a national reproductive rate (the R number) of 1.16.

But at a regional level, the team estimated cases are doubling much quicker - every 17 days in the North West, 13 days in Yorkshire and the Humber and 14 days in the West Midlands.

However, they said the doubling time may be as low as seven days in Yorkshire and the West Midlands, and every nine days in the North West.

Across England, about one in 170 people currently have the virus and there are approximately 45,000 new infections each day, the report continued.

It pointed to "high prevalence" of Covid-19 across England and said "prevalence has increased in all age groups, including those at highest risk".

The highest prevalence of the virus is among 18 to 24-year olds, but prevalence among anyone aged 65 and over has increased eight-fold since mid August to early September, to 0.33%, the report said.

It also found that at least half of people with Covid-19 will also not display symptoms on the day of testing or in the previous week.

The experts concluded: "Improved compliance with existing policy and, as necessary, additional interventions are required to control the spread of (coronavirus) in the community and limit the numbers of hospital admissions and deaths from Covid-19."

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Professors Steven Riley and Paul Elliott, from Imperial College London, led the study, which included colleagues from the University of Oxford and Lancaster University.

Prof Riley said there was evidence of "continued growth and possibly rapid growth" in regions such as the North West, Yorkshire and the West Midlands but the key message across England was that "prevalence is high".

He added: "Prevalence is going to continue to go up unless either compliance with the messaging improves, or additional measures are introduced that are supported by the general public.

"There is a very strong epidemiological case for trying to reduce the transmission right now."

Prof Riley said prior exposure to the virus among people in London could be contributing to its lower R rate.

He said a degree of immunity "will be making some effect, but it's not clear as to what degree", adding that "on average across London, the total amount of immunity is quite low".

The research comes after a study by Edinburgh University found that lockdown measures may have increased the numbers of Covid-related deaths.

Lead author Professor Graeme Ackland, from Edinburgh University, said: "Unless a vaccine magically appears and is rolled out across the entire population in the next six months, then shutting down society is unlikely to reduce overall deaths."

It comes after a number of academics signed the so-called "Great Barrington declaration", which says people less vulnerable to coronavirus should be allowed to return to normal life.

The declaration advocates a herd immunity approach while continuing "focused protection" for those most at risk.

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