Sage warns there is ‘no clear evidence’ of change to pandemic

Coronavirus – Wed Oct 14, 2020
Coronavirus – Wed Oct 14, 2020 - (Copyright PA Wire)
16:03pm, Fri 16 Oct 2020
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There is “no clear evidence” the trajectory of the Covid-19 pandemic has changed in the past month, Government scientists have warned, as a raft of new data shows a rise in cases.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises Government, said the reproduction number, or R value, of coronavirus transmission for the whole of the UK stands between 1.3 and 1.5.

Last week, the group said the R number was slightly lower at between 1.2 and 1.5.

HEALTH Coronavirus Infection - (Copyright PA Graphics)

In a statement, Sage said there was continued exponential growth, transmission was “not slowing”, and added: “There is no clear evidence that the epidemic’s trajectory has changed in the past month.”

The rule of six came into force on September 14, followed a few days later by a 10pm curfew on pubs and bars and then a series of regional restrictions.

A new three-tier system placing all regions of England into medium, high and very high risk areas came into force on Wednesday.

On Thursday, a scientist advising Government suggested the restrictions so far had been “frankly useless”.

HEALTH Coronavirus Infection - (Copyright PA Graphics)

On Friday, new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed there were an estimated average of 27,900 new cases per day of Covid-19 between October 2 and 8.

This is up 62% from an estimated 17,200 new cases per day for the period September 25 to October 1.

The ONS said cases were rising “rapidly”, with an estimated 336,500 people having coronavirus in the week to October 8, equating to around one in 160 people.

The figures represent a jump from 224,400 people in the previous week of September 25 to October 1.

The ONS has analysed more than 450,000 swabs over the last six weeks from the public, regardless of whether they have symptoms.

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Ruth Studley, head of analysis for the Covid-19 infection survey, said: “Our latest data shows infections continue to rise, with more than a third of a million people estimated to be infected – the highest levels we have seen since the survey began in May.

“Like previous weeks, infections continue to be highest in the north of England and among older teenagers and young adults.”

The data shows the highest rates in England continue to be among older teenagers and young adults (from school year 12 through to age 24), and secondary school-aged children (school years seven to 11).

But the ONS said there are now also more signs of growth in the age groups covering 25 to 69-year-olds.

The figures do not include people staying in hospitals, care homes or other institutional settings.

Separately, the Medical Research Council (MRC) biostatistics unit at Cambridge University published new predictions on Monday on how fast the epidemic is growing across the country.

It said around 47,000 Covid-19 infections are occurring daily across England, with deaths expected to hit 240 to 690 per day by October 26.

The figures are fed to the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, which provides real-time information to the Government through the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), and to regional Public Health England (PHE) teams.

The Cambridge University researchers estimated cases are doubling in under seven days, with a “substantial proportion” of those being asymptomatic.

This means that the number of infections grows by 9% each day and it translates into a doubling in number in under one week

They said: “Our current estimate of the number of infections occurring each day across England is 47,000.

“We predict that the number of deaths each day is likely to be between 240 and 690 on October 26.”

They said the daily number of infections was within the range of 28,900 to 74,900 per day, with the best estimate being 47,000.

They added the estimated growth rate for England is 0.09 per day.

“This means that the number of infections grows by 9% each day and it translates into a doubling in number in under one week,” they said.

“The central estimates for the number of new infections is particularly high in the North West and the North East and Yorkshire (17,600 and 10,700 infections per day, respectively), followed by London and the Midlands (5,450 and 5,720, respectively).

HEALTH Coronavirus - (Copyright PA Graphics)

“Note that a substantial proportion of these daily infections will be asymptomatic.”

The latest Government figures showed 18,980 lab-confirmed new coronavirus cases as of 9am on Thursday, while a further 138 deaths were reported.

Experts say lab-confirmed cases do not represent the true scale of the epidemic.

Meanwhile, Professor Graham Medley, an expert in infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a member of Sage, has said he believes that in terms of healthcare, “some areas are going to be back to the same kind of position they were at the end of March”.

And Professor John Edmunds, epidemiologist and member of Sage, spoke of the likelihood of having to step up measures “significantly” if cases continue to rise.

Prof Edmunds said he thinks it helps “enormously” if people understand what the coronavirus restrictions are in their area.

He told the PA news agency: “The previous situation resulted in a hodge-podge of different interventions in different places that almost literally no-one could follow.

“So the three-tier system will help with that enormously.

“I am not sure, however, that the measures will go far enough to stop epidemic growth. I hope so, but I doubt it.

“It seems much more likely that we will have to step up the measures significantly to ease the pressure on the health system that will inevitably occur if cases continue to rise as they are.”

Referring to Liverpool, which is under the Tier 3 category, Prof Edmunds said the restrictions there “mainly amounts to closure of pubs that don’t serve food”.

He added: “So, I am not sure that we would expect to see a large effect of the current measures anyway.”

Separate figures from the Covid Symptom Study UK Infection Survey suggest there were 27,762 daily new symptomatic cases of Covid-19 in the UK on average over the two weeks up to October 11.

This is up from 21,903 the week before.

Researchers behind the study used regional data to suggest which places could face tier 3 restrictions next.

Burnley and Manchester come top of the list followed by Newcastle upon Tyne, Nottingham, Bury, Hartlepool, Salford, Sheffield and Leeds.

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, who leads the study, said: “The data is no longer showing the exponential increases that we were seeing a couple of weeks ago, but is clearly showing new cases continuing to rise.

“The North West still has the most cases and the fastest acceleration of cases with doubling times of around 10 days. Slowing this rapid rise is a priority.”

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