Last month, Imperial College’s React study claimed that new cases of Covid were static or even rising slightly. This contradicted the figures for confirmed new cases, obtained through the Test and Trace system, which had shown a sharp fall in new cases from the second week of January onwards. Given that React tests a randomised sample of the population to arrive at an estimate for prevalence of the disease — and is therefore not capable of being skewed by the number of tests being performed — some were more inclined to believe that this, and not the number of confirmed cases, showed the genuine picture.
However, February’s React study, published this morning, shows a very different picture. Yes, prevalence of the disease does appear to be falling, and just as sharply as the official figures indicate. The React study swabbed 85,000 people between 4 and 13 February and arrived at an estimate that 0.51 per cent of the population was infected with Covid-19 (either symptomatically or asymptomatically). This was down two-thirds since the estimate of 1.57 per cent obtained from swabs taken between 6 and 22 January.
The study puts the R number for the country as a whole at 0.72. Cases had fallen sharply in London, where the prevalence fell from 2.83 per cent to 0.54. In the South East it fell from 1.61 per cent of the population to 0.3, in the North West from 1.38 per cent to 0.91 and in the North East from 1.22 per cent to 0.82 per cent. That rather raises the question: what happened to the new Kentish variant which was blamed for the very sharp rises in infections in London and the South East in December? While it seemed to be significantly more transmissible initially, it doesn’t seem to be succeeding at present.
While we have been focussed on falling UK rates of Covid in recent weeks, rather less has been written about the global picture. Cases have been falling since early January around the world — and almost as fast as they have been here. According to the World Health Organization, over the last week alone new infections have fallen 16 per cent and deaths have fallen 10 per cent. New cases have fallen in all parts of the world except the Eastern Mediterranean, where they rose 7 per cent. The sharpest falls were in Africa (down 20 per cent) and the Western Pacific (again, down 20 per cent). This is the first sustained fall in cases and deaths since the emergence of the virus just over a year ago.