Report on rising COVID infections 'missed the peak' and cases are actually coming down, top scientist says

Connor Parker
·4-min read
Cases have been falling in recent days. (PA)
Cases have been falling in recent days. (PA)

A top scientist has said a report suggesting a recent rise in coronavirus infections “missed the peak” and that separate data suggests cases have actually been falling.

The Imperial College London React report, which is closely watched by the government, showed that the prevalence of coronavirus across England increased by 50% between early December and the second week of January.

Some 143,000 volunteers were tested in England between 6 and 15 January, with results showing that one in 63 people were infected.

The researchers said their findings showed there were “worrying suggestions of a recent uptick in infections”, covering part of the period of the latest lockdown.

National prevalence of the virus increased by half from 0.91% in early December to 1.58%, the study found.

However, Tim Spector, whose Zoe app collects separate data on COVID infections, pointed out the React study took a break in December and argued that it may have missed the real peak.

Read more: What you can and can't do under current lockdown rules

He said data from the Zoe app suggests cases have halved since the peak on 1 January with an estimated R around 0.8 in the UK.

The latest report from the Zoe app, published on 15 January, found COVID was trending down.

The Zoe COVID Symptom Study UK Infection Survey figures are based on around 1 million weekly reporters and the proportion of newly symptomatic users who have positive swab tests.

It found London still had the highest number of cases but that the figure was falling.

Watch: Boris Johnson on 'absolutely crucial' need to follow lockdown rules

The React study also found London had the highest regional prevalence, jumping from 1.21% to 2.8%, while there were also rises in the South East, East of England, West Midlands, South West and North West.

The study authors said the national R value – referring to the number of people an infected person will pass the virus on to – was estimated at 1.04.

Professor Paul Elliott, director of the programme at Imperial, warned that if prevalence continued to be so high, “more and more lives will be lost”.v

He said: “Our data are showing worrying suggestions of a recent uptick in infections which we will continue to monitor closely.

“To prevent our already stretched health system from becoming overwhelmed, infections must be brought down; if prevalence continues at the high rate we are seeing then hospitals will continue to be put under immense pressure, and more and more lives will be lost.

“We all have a part to play in preventing this situation from worsening and must do our best to stay at home wherever possible.”

Read more:
Chart shows how quickly the UK is vaccinating compared to the rest of the world
COVID deaths reach record high as Sage adviser warns of divided government

The React report caused some concern at the top of government as cases are still high and the NHS struggles to cope.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said the findings show “why we must not let down our guard over the weeks to come”.

He added: “Infections across England are at very high levels and this will keep having a knock-on effect on the already significant pressures faced by our NHS and hospitals.

“It is absolutely paramount that everyone plays their part to bring down infections.”

Boris Johnson said the research showed that current levels of coronavirus were still too high.

On Wednesday the UK recorded its highest-ever single daily death toll with a further 1,820 lives claimed by the virus.

Daily case data does show numbers falling in recent days, though they remain stubbornly high.

There were 38,905 cases confirmed on Wednesday, down from a high of 68,053 on 8 January but still considerably higher than any of the days in November.

Watch: What you can and can’t do during England’s third national lockdown