Substantial regional differences in Covid-19 infections across England, says ONS

A woman wearing a face mask passes a screen advising the wearing of face masks on Ox
A woman wearing a face mask passes a screen advising the wearing of face masks on Ox (PA Wire)
13:49pm, Fri 20 Nov 2020
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There are “substantial differences” in Covid-19 infection rates across England, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), although the national picture suggests there may be some impact of lockdown.

Data from November 8 to 14 suggests the overall national infection rate for England is similar to the week before, but there are stark regional divides, with rising rates in primary school aged children.

It comes as the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said the reproduction number – or R value – for the whole of the UK had dropped to between 1 and 1.1.

The ONS said: “Over the last week, infection 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 highest Covid-19 infection rates remain in the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber.”

New increases appear to be driven by infections in younger people, with increasing levels in primary school age children

Its estimates for cases are based on 665,759 swab tests in people’s homes in England over the last six weeks, regardless of whether people have symptoms.

The ONS said the highest infection rates are in secondary school aged children, older teenagers and young adults and that rates continue to increase in primary school aged children.

Meanwhile, infection rates appear to be levelling off in people aged 25 and over.

Katherine Kent, co-head of analysis for the Covid-19 Infection Survey, said: “There are early signs that the national level of infections in England might be levelling off but this hides a lot of variation at a regional level.

“Whilst the highest levels of infection remain in the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber, rates are now decreasing in the North West and the East Midlands while increasing in London, the East of England and the South East.

“New increases appear to be driven by infections in younger people, with increasing levels in primary school age children.

“Elsewhere in the UK, we are seeing a similar picture with increasing infections throughout October which are now decreasing in Wales and Northern Ireland and levelling off in Scotland.”

The ONS said there were an average of 38,900 new cases per day of Covid-19 in private households in England between November 8 to 14.

This is down from an estimated 47,700 new cases per day for the period October 31 to November 6.

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

Analysing the data, Professor James Naismith, from the University of Oxford, said: “The ONS data continue a run of data suggesting that the number of new infections is now beginning to fall.

“These numbers would be the first where we might hope to see the national lockdown beginning to impact.”

Meanwhile, the reproduction number, or R value, of coronavirus transmission across the UK has moved closer to 1.

Data released on Friday by Sage shows the estimate for R for the whole of the UK is between 1 and 1.1.

Last week, the R number was between 1 and 1.2.

R represents the average number of people each Covid-19 positive person goes on to infect.

Elsewhere, data from the Zoe app coronavirus study run by King’s College London suggests the UK reproduction number – the R value – is around 1.

The R represents the average number of people someone with Covid-19 goes on to infect.

The Zoe app team put the R in England at 1.0, and at 0.9 in Wales and Scotland.

But it said “worryingly, the east of England and especially the Midlands are both seeing numbers still increasing with R values of 1.1 and 1 respectively”.

Meanwhile, the North West and the North East and Yorkshire both have R values of 0.9 as cases decline.

In the South East, London and South West, cases are not declining, the researchers said, and the R is 1.

The continued rise in the Midlands, despite national lockdown, is concerning

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, said: “The reason we are now seeing an overall R value of 1 in England is because numbers are falling in the North, rising in the Midlands and East but staying flat in the south of England.

“The continued rise in the Midlands, despite national lockdown, is concerning.

“This suggests an approach focused on improved compliance at regional, not national level, over a longer time frame is the best way forward.

“We need to keep cases low enough for us to function as a nation until vaccines arrive without further harmful lockdowns.”

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