An interim report from a large testing programme for Covid-19 in the community has found signs that the sharp rise in infections has begun to slow in England.
The latest round of testing by the Imperial College React-1 study found a high level of infections and noted cases were continuing to rise, but the rate of increase appeared to have come down.
Scientists analysed swabs from more than 80,000 people out of a total of 150,000 taken between 18 and 26 September and found infections had risen substantially across all age groups and regions.
Based on the swabs, the researchers estimate that more than one in 200 people across England now have Covid-19, or 0.55 of the population, up from 0.13% in the previous round of testing.
But Prof Paul Elliott, the director of the React study, told the Today programme that the R value of the epidemic – the average number of people an infected person infects – appeared to have fallen from 1.7 to 1.1, though he stressed there was a large error margin around the figure.
With an R just above one, infections would continue to rise, but more slowly than they have been since the end of August.
“At the moment we are at high levels of the virus and we do seem to have a bit of an upwards trajectory, but that fast increase in the virus seems to have slowed,” he told Today. “We just need to redouble our efforts and follow the guidance.”
Despite the apparent slowing in the rate of growth, the proportion of infected people is the highest the study has recorded, with new cases in the over-65s rising sevenfold. A similar increase was seen in the 55 to 64 age range. Young people continued to have the most infections, with about 1% estimated to be infected.
“While our latest findings show some early evidence that the growth of new cases may have slowed, suggesting efforts to control the infection are working, the prevalence of infection is the highest that we have recorded to date,” Elliott said.
“This reinforces the need for protective measures to limit the spread of the disease and the public’s adherence to these, which will be vital to minimise further significant illness and loss of life from Covid-19.”
The React-1 study tracks Covid-19 in the community by analysing nose and throat swabs from more than 150,000 randomly selected people every month over a two-week period. Of 84,610 swabs analysed in the latest round of testing, 363 tested positive. Extrapolated to the whole population, this suggests 411,000 people have the virus.
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