The coronavirus infection rate has stopped rising across England, a new study has suggested.
The research by scientists at Cambridge University also shows the reproduction rate of the virus – known as the R value – may have fallen to 1, which could indicate the growth of the pandemic is no longer escalating.
It comes as the health secretary said this morning there are ‘promising signs that the lockdown is working’ as cases slowly begin to come back under control.
The paper, published yesterday by the MRC Biostatistics Unit Covid-19 Working Group, said: ‘We estimate R to be around 1 in all regions.
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‘The plots of the R over time show clear downward trends.
‘The probability of R exceeding 1 is above 80% only in the Midlands and South East.
‘The growth rate for England is estimated at 0.0 per day.
‘This means that nationally the number of infections has stopped growing with initial evidence of possible decrease in the North West and North East and Yorkshire.’
Infection rates are believed to have stopped rising in all regions, and could even be falling in the north.
Matt Hancock told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘There are promising signs that we’ve seen a flattening of the number of cases since lockdown was brought in.
‘That is good news – clearly there is further to go.
‘Yesterday we saw for the first time the seven day average of cases coming down.
‘I’m calling it a flattening rather than a fall because one swallow doesn’t make a summer.
‘But these are promising signs that the lockdown is working to get the number of cases under control.’
The Cambridge research also suggests London, followed by the North West, has the highest proportion of the population who have ever been infected, at 20% and 19% respectively.
The South West continues to have the lowest proportion of population infection, at 4%.
The scientists further suggest: ‘These lower values of R are likely to be the result of various social distancing interventions, detected through the Google mobility data, and the school closure during the half-term period.
‘The lockdown introduced on November 5 will have induced changes in contact patterns, which cannot be quantified with any certainty at this point, but have the potential to induce a continued decrease in the R values and the number of new infections.’
It comes after the number of coronavirus cases yesterday dropped by 31% compared to last Thursday, while deaths were down 11%.
The Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) confirmed last week the R rate had dropped to between 1 and 1.2.
This is due an update today, which will formally show through the figures if the second lockdown is working.
It comes following conflict between the Government and scientists over whether the rules should be relaxed for Christmas.
Sage has said if the R rate drops below 1 and consistently stays there, restrictions can only then be safely relaxed for Christmas ‘for a limited time’.
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