Over 140,000 volunteers were tested with PCR tests in England between 11 and 30 of March to examine the levels of infection in the general population. The latest data shows infections in England have fallen by around 60% since the last REACT report (covering the period between 4 – 23 February), published on 4 March. When compared to the findings from February, the sharpest drops in prevalence were seen in London and the South East.
The tenth COVID-19 REACT-1 study observed that the speed of this decline started to plateau from mid-March, reinforcing the need for everyone to continue to follow the rules as we progress down the roadmap, the Department of Health & Social Care states.
The study also found that the correlation between prevalence of infections and deaths is now diverging, suggesting that infections may have led to fewer deaths since the start of widespread vaccination through the Government’s vaccination programme.
The main findings from the tenth COVID-19 REACT-1 study show:
- During the latest round in March, the study estimates an R number of 1 in England.
- Between February and March, national prevalence has dropped by around 60% from 0.49% in February to 0.20% in March.
- There were substantial falls in regional prevalence from February to March: in South East from 0.36% in February to 0.07% in March; London from 0.60% to 0.16%; East of England from 0.47% to 0.15%; East Midlands from 0.59% to 0.19%; and North West from 0.69% to 0.31%.
- Areas of higher prevalence remain in parts of the North West, and Yorkshire and The Humber.
- The highest prevalence in March was in those aged 5 to 12 years at 0.41%, compared with the lowest in those aged 65 to 74 and 75 and over at 0.09%.
Infections may have produced fewer hospitalisations and deaths since the start of widespread vaccination, the Department of Health & Social Care argues.
The vaccine programme continues to expand, aiming to protect as many people as possible, and over 37 million doses have been administered across the country so far. The vaccination programme is already impacting hospitalisations and deaths, with prevalence now lowest in those aged 75 and over.
Professor Paul Elliott, director of the REACT programme from Imperial’s School of Public Health, said, 'We have seen a gratifying fall in infections since our last survey in February, with infections dropping by around 60% overall. This is hugely encouraging and shows we’re headed in the right direction.
'However, in our most recent data there has been a flattening off in the infection rate with an R number now around one. This shows that we need to continue to approach the situation with caution and keep sticking to the rules.'
Kelly Beaver, Managing Director, Public Affairs at Ipsos MORI, said, 'Over 1.5 million people in England have now participated in the REACT study and the data from this round is very encouraging, with a 60% reduction in prevalence since the last round in March.
'But as we progress through the roadmap out of lockdown, we must remain vigilant. The R number being at 1 means we need to remain cautious in our approach over the coming weeks and months.'
This report is the latest from the REACT study which was commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care and carried out by a team of scientists, clinicians and researchers at Imperial College London, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Ipsos MORI. To access the pre-print report that is available to download, use the password REACTR10.