LONDON — A third national lockdown in England appears to have had little impact on the rising rate of coronavirus infections, according to the findings of a major study, with “no evidence of decline” in the prevalence of the virus during the first 10 days of tougher restrictions.
The closely-watched REACT-1 study, led by Imperial College London, warned that health services would remain under “extreme pressure” and the cumulative number of deaths would increase rapidly unless the prevalence of the virus in the community was reduced substantially.
The findings of the preprint report, published Thursday by Imperial College London and Ipsos MORI, come shortly after the U.K. recorded another all-time high of coronavirus deaths.
Government figures released on Wednesday showed an additional 1,820 people had died within 28 days of a positive Covid test. To date, the U.K. has recorded 3.5 million coronavirus cases, with 93,290 deaths.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the latest figures were “appalling” and warned: “There are still tough weeks to come.”
Johnson imposed lockdown measures in England on Jan. 5, instructing people to “stay at home” as most schools, bars and restaurants were ordered to close. It is expected the strict public health measures will remain in place until at least mid-February.
What were the main findings?
The REACT-1 study tests nose and throat swabs from between 120,000 to 180,000 people in the community in England at approximately monthly intervals. The latest results mostly covered a period from Jan. 6 to Jan. 15.
The study compared the results with swabs collected between Nov. 13 to Nov. 24 and those taken between Nov. 25 and Dec. 3.
Researchers found 1,962 positives from 142,909 swabs taken over the January period. It means 1.58% of people tested had Covid on a weighted average.
This represents a more than 50% increase in prevalence rates since the study’s mid-December results and is the highest recorded by REACT-1 since it started in May 2020.
Prevalence from Jan. 6 to Jan. 15 was highest in London, the study said, with 1 in 36 people infected, more than double the rate of the previous REACT-1 results.
Infections had also more than doubled in the southeast of England, east of England and West Midlands when compared to the findings published in early December.
“Our data are showing worrying suggestions of a recent uptick in infections which we will continue to monitor closely,” Professor Paul Elliott, director of the program at Imperial, said in a statement.
“We all have a part to play in preventing this situation from worsening and must do our best to stay at home wherever possible,” he added.
The U.K.’s Department of Health and Social Care said the full impact of lockdown measures would not yet be reflected in the prevalence figures reported in the REACT-1 study.
“These findings show why we must not let down our guard over the weeks to come,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.
“It is absolutely paramount that everyone plays their part to bring down infections. This means staying at home and only going out where absolutely necessary, reducing contact with others and maintaining social distancing,” Hancock said.