England falling behind other UK nations in bringing down infections, expert warns

COVID infection numbers continue to fall across the UK - but remain very high, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics. (Getty)
COVID infection numbers continue to fall across the UK - but remain very high, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics. (Getty)

England is falling behind other UK nations in bringing down coronavirus infections, an expert has warned.

An estimated 421,300 people had COVID-19 in the UK in the week ending 19 February, according to the latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

In the first week of January 2021, an estimated 1,256,600 people had COVID-19 in the UK.

Professor Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at The Open University, said the figures were "good news" but highlighted differences in improvements across the four nations.

“More good news, but still some important reasons for caution," he said. "However, the pattern of decreases isn’t the same across the whole UK.

“Over this most recent week, the decrease in positivity was very considerably faster in Wales and in Northern Ireland than it was in England and Scotland. In Wales, the estimated positivity went down by 41% of the previous rate in a week, and in Northern Ireland by a huge 46%, so that it almost halved.

"For England, the figure was 22%, and 18% for Scotland – so a fall of roughly one fifth in a week in those countries."

As a result of the different speeds of decrease, the picture across the UK significantly differs from the previous week when the rate of testing positive were similar in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and the rate was lower in Scotland.

But for the latest dates for which data is available, in England ONS estimate that one in 145 people would test positive. In Wales it is one in 205, in Northern Ireland one in 195, and in Scotland one in 225.

Prof McConway said: "So now the big difference is between England and the other three nations."

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All figures are for people in private households and do not include those in hospitals or care homes.

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The data comes as the next stage of the coronavirus vaccine rollout was revealed.

People aged 40-49 will be prioritised next, with scientific advisers saying the move will “provide the greatest benefit in the shortest time”.

Calls to give the jab to certain professions, including teachers and police officers, have been rejected.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) concluded the most effective way to prevent death and hospital admission is to carry on prioritising people by age.

It said modelling studies for phase 2 of the vaccination programme also indicate that the speed of vaccine deployment is the most important factor in helping prevent severe illness and death.

Downing Street has defended the decision not to prioritise key workers.

A No 10 spokesman said: “The JCVI have advised that even in the under 50s, age remains the biggest single factor determining mortality and hospitalisations, so it is therefore right that we accept their advice to continue to prioritise by age as this will protect the most people and have the biggest impact on reducing NHS pressures."

The government has committed to giving all people in the top nine priority groups the first dose of the vaccine by the middle of April and all adults in the UK by the end of July.

Over 18.5 million people in the UK have now been given the first dose of the vaccine.

Watch: People aged 40-49 next on the list for a Covid-19 vaccine