The capital could be rid of coronavirus sooner than you think, as new modelling suggests the city is recording only 24 new cases a day.
The ‘R’ reproduction rate has fallen to 0.4 in London, with the number of new cases halving every 3.5 days, according to analysis by Cambridge University and Public Health England. It was initially the hub of the UK’s outbreak and was considered to be weeks ahead of the rest of the country.
When the lockdown was imposed on March 23 it was being hit by around 200,000 new cases per day, but modelling suggests it could be free of fresh diagnoses by next month. The team of researchers estimate around 1.8 million people in London (20%) have already had the disease, suggesting they could have a higher level of immunity, making it harder for the bug to spread.
However it’s a different story for the North East of England, which is recording around 4,000 infections every day. The country is still making progress overall, as data shows the R value in England is 0.75, below the 1.0 set out by Boris Johnson as a requirement for easing lockdown rules. Research suggests the rate in the North East and Yorkshire is 0.8, compared to 0.76 in the South West, 0.73 in the North West, 0.71 in the East of England and 0.68 in the Midlands.
The team of researchers say between 10 and 24 people in London had caught coronavirus on May 10. But PHE-Cambridge projection, based on death data from both bodies, has been called into question by some experts, who say the rate in London is ‘extremely unlikely to be so low’.
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Data for the study was collected before the Government eased some of its lockdown rules this week, so it is unclear how Covid-19 cases in the capital will be affected as more people head to work and fill public places.
Public Health England’s analysis is now being provided to councils and local authorities to help them measure the spread of the virus and level of immunity in their region. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) is reportedly considering employing regional lockdowns to isolate areas where the infection rate is significantly higher.
Social distancing concerns were raised after pictures emerged this week of packed London Underground trains with many passengers not wearing masks. Speaking on Sky News this morning Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said: ‘If people use proper social distancing on public transport “it is safe”.’
Asked whether lockdown measures could be released regionally, he said: ‘Well we’re taking a data and science-led approach at all stages of this. If analysis is correct and London is that much lower than elsewhere it is important we don’t allow that to rise again.’
Pushed on whether he would be comfortable to use public transport, Lewis said: ‘Well if we’re practising proper social distancing, yes it is safe.
‘And I think actually the point I would make is, look, it is a fair point, if everybody goes onto public transport there will be a challenge with being able to continue to follow social distancing and people see images of people showing where social distancing isn’t being followed.
‘That is why we’re so clear in saying to people we must follow social distancing to keep on top of this R level, that is why we’re saying to people don’t use public transport unless you absolutely have to.’
Despite the promising study by Public Health England and Cambridge University, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine warns the capital’s true infection rate is likely to be ‘a little bit higher’.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: ‘Well, there is some variation around this and there is some uncertainty in this, but what we have observed in London is that case numbers and death numbers have come down faster than in other parts of the country – albeit from a considerably higher level.
‘So I think it… well, I would say it is a little bit higher than that, but it is probably lower than the rest of the country.’
Asked whether the R rate should be looked at regionally, Prof Funk said: ‘I absolutely do so, yes.’
Pushed on whether the Government should react to different R rates regionally in policy terms too, he added: ‘I think that is something that we will probably have to do going forward.’
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