The Welsh “firebreak” lockdown has succeeded in driving down Covid infections, and there are signs that rates have also fallen in Northern Ireland and are levelling off in Scotland and some parts of England.
Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, said he believed the 17-day firebreak, which ended 10 days ago, had worked and there was a “path” through to Christmas if people continued to respect the rules now in place.
However, he was at pains to say this was only a “platform” that could be “frittered away” if people did not act responsibly.
Drakeford expressed concern that police in Wales had dealt with 1,000 Covid-related incidents since the firebreak ended, and he called on people to think twice before heading to the shops on Black Friday next week. He said Covid would “flood back” if people did not act responsibly.
He said the seven-day case incidence rate for Wales has fallen to around 160 cases per 100,000 people, compared with 280 when the firebreak began. Local rates range from just over 20 cases per 100,000 people in Anglesey to more than 350 in Blaenau Gwent.
In Merthyr Tydfil, in the south Wales valleys, where a mass testing programme begins this weekend, the rate has plunged from 770 to 250.
While the news from Wales is encouraging, the effects of England’s lockdown are only just emerging. The latest results from the infection survey from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests the rate of increase in cases overall in the community in England is slowing and the rate of new infections has levelled off.
Around 38,900 new cases per day were recorded in the most recent week, compared with around 47,700 per day the week before. The latest findings cover 8-14 November, beginning three days after lockdown was implemented in England, meaning they are unlikely to reflect the full impact of the measures.
The data shows large variations in infection rate. “Positivity rates have continued to increase in London, the east of England and the south-east; however, rates now appear to be decreasing in the north-west and the East Midlands,” the ONS said, adding that prevalence remained highest in the north-west and Yorkshire and the Humber. Much of the north-west was under tier 3 restrictions before lockdown was introduced.
The ONS findings are based on tests carried out on randomly selected households, and hence pick up both asymptomatic and symptomatic infections.
A similarly mixed picture is seen in data from the team behind the Covid symptom study app, based on swabs of symptomatic users collected in the two weeks to 15 November, which suggests the R figure for England is now 1.0, meaning infection rates remain steady.
“The north-west and the north-east and Yorkshire both have R values of 0.9, with numbers still declining since their peak at the end of October,” the team reports. “However, in the southern regions of England cases are not declining despite lockdown restrictions, with R values of 1 in [the] south-east, London and south-west.”
The data also suggests the east of England and the Midlands have R values of 1.1 and 1.0 respectively – something Prof Tim Spector, who leads the study, said indicated the need for focus on improved compliance at regional rather than national level over a longer timeframe.
However, there is some good news: both datasets suggest the percentage of people testing positive for Covid is levelling off or even falling among older adults, although the ONS suggests rates are continuing to increase in primary school-age children.
The good news from the Welsh government is reflected in the ONS figures. The results reveal that the percentage of people testing positive for the coronavirus peaked around the end of October and has since declined, with data from the 8-14 November suggesting about one in 165 people in Wales had the virus, down from one in 110 people in the week of 25 to 31 October.
Meanwhile, the study suggests infection rates in Northern Ireland peaked around the middle of October and have since fallen, while in Scotland infection rates have levelled off in the past few weeks.
The government is now putting the R number at 1.0 to 1.1 for the UK and for England, with considerable variation around the regions, as suggested by the ONS report.