COVID-19 case rates have fallen in two-thirds of regions of England as the national lockdown begins to have an impact on numbers, the latest data shows.
The report from Public Health England showed London’s rate of new cases stood at 864.9 per 100,000 people in the seven days to 10 January, down from 1,043.9 in the previous week, but is still the highest of any region.
Three regions recorded a week-on-week increase: the North West, South West and the West Midlands.
The other regions recording a week-on-week fall are the East Midlands, East of England, the North East, South East and Yorkshire & the Humber.
The South East, London and East of England – the areas which were put under Tier 4 in December –have seen the biggest fall in cases, although they are still higher than the rest of the country.
Yorkshire & the Humber continues to have the lowest rate: 297.2, down from 309.9.
The report also found case rates in England are falling among all age groups except for people aged 80 and over.
The highest rate continues to be among 20 to 29-year-olds, which stood at 879.7 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to 10 January, down week-on-week from 936.9.
Among 30 to 39-year-olds, the rate dropped from 895.5 to 767.8, and for 40 to 49-year-olds, it fell from 809.4 to 679.8.
For people 80 and over, who are the most vulnerable to the virus, the rate increased from 475.7 to 577.1.
Professor Neil Ferguson, whose early modelling of COVID-19 made him a key player in the UK’s first lockdown, said he thinks the current wave of the epidemic may be coming under control in some regions.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Prof Ferguson said: “I think it’s much too early to say exactly when case numbers are going to start coming down, but in some NHS regions in England and in Wales there’s sign of plateauing.
“At the moment, it looks like in London in particular, and a couple of other regions – the South East and East of England – (that) hospital admissions may even have plateaued, though it’s hard to tell they’re coming down.”
The slight decreases in COVID rates is good news for the country, but they are still far higher than they’ve been at any point since April.
It will be some time before the number falls low enough to ease pressure off the NHS.
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About one in five major hospital trusts in England had no spare adult critical care beds on 10 January, and many areas are being forced to cancel non-urgent care as the pandemic consumes all of their time and resources.
There are currently 36,489 patients in hospital with COVID according to the latest government figures, with around 3,000 to 4,000 more coming in each day.
The numbers are now higher than they were during the first wave.
Yvonne Doyle, medical director for PHE, said: “The rate that people are being admitted to hospital is now higher that at any point during the pandemic. We are still seeing thousands of people having to go to hospital each day.
“Worryingly these numbers are likely to continue to get worse before we see the benefits of our efforts to protect the NHS, which will mean more pressure for our health service than ever before. Please act as though you have the virus.
“Around one in three of us won’t show symptoms but can still infect others who could become very unwell. This is why we all need to stay at home, so that we can protect our NHS and save lives.”
According to government data, there were 1,564 deaths recorded within 28 days of a positive test on Wednesday, the highest figure reported in a single day since the beginning of the pandemic.
Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said on Wednesday that the country was in “a period of high death numbers” which will not “reduce quickly”.
Speaking to ITV’s Peston programme, Vallance said: “The daily numbers jump around a bit but I think we are in a position now – when you look at the number of infections we’ve had over the past few weeks and how this is likely to continue, so I don’t think they’re going to drop very quickly – that I’m afraid we’re in a period of high death numbers that’s going to carry on for some weeks.
“It’s not going to come down quickly even if the measures that are in place now start to reduce the infection numbers.
“So we’re in for a pretty grim period, I’m afraid.”
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