UK infections ‘showing signs of levelling off’

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The number of coronavirus infections across the UK is showing signs of levelling off – but positivity rates still remain high in some areas and among secondary school children and young adults, according to the ONS.

From 15-21 November, the ONS infection survey estimates there were 633,000 cases in England – a drop of 31,700 on the previous week.

However, this is two-and-a-half times the figure at the start of October, and in the summer the survey was estimating just 28,000.

When the UK was coming out of the first lockdown at the end of May the figure was around 33,000.

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The ONS said in recent weeks the positivity rate for England “has shown signs of levelling”, but varies “substantially” between different regions and it is still increasing in the East Midlands.

The highest positivity rates are in Yorkshire and Humber, the North West and North East.

Rates “appear to be decreasing” in the West Midlands, eastern England, London, south-east England and south west England.

The lowest rates are in eastern England and south west England.

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Infections have appeared to drop in Wales and Northern Ireland, however positivity rates look to have increased in Scotland over recent weeks.

The number of infections is continuing to rise among secondary school children.

Rates have fallen among adults aged 35 and over, and appear to be levelling off among young adults (school year 12 to age 24), 25 to 34 year-olds, and children of primary school age and below, the ONS said.

The survey data does not include people staying in hospitals, care homes or other institutional settings.

It comes as Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the area-by-area tier restrictions for when England’s second national lockdown ends next week.

Much of the country is facing tougher coronavirus restrictions with areas including Birmingham, Manchester, Wolverhampton and Newcastle placed in Tier 3. London and Liverpool will be in Tier 2.

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Is the tier system practical?

Also on Thursday, the latest Test and Trace figures showed a total of 152,660 people tested positive for COVID-19 in England at least once in the week to 18 November.

This is a decrease of 9% on the previous week’s total of 168,250 – and is the first time since mid-August that the number has fallen week-on-week.

Around 60.3% of close contacts of people who tested positive were reached through the Test and Trace system – down slightly from 60.7% in the previous week, and is also just above the all-time low of 60.1% for the week to 14 October.

For cases managed by local health protection teams, 99% of contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate, while the figure was 58.8% for cases managed either online or by call centres.

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A total of 50.6% of people who were tested for COVID-19 at a regional site, local site or mobile testing unit – a so-called “in-person” test – received their result within 24 hours. This is up from 38% in the previous week.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had pledged that, by the end of June, the results of all in-person tests would be back within 24 hours.