Rates of Covid-19 have tumbled in nine out of the 10 worst-affected areas in England in the past week, showing signs the country’s outbreak is still shrinking.
The numbers of people being diagnosed with the coronavirus has been rising in recent weeks, raising fears that England is headed for a deadly second wave.
But experts say this could simply be down to more accurately targeted testing picking up more cases where there are outbreaks.
Official NHS figures, however, suggest infection rates fell in all of England’s Covid-19 hotspots in the most recent week.
Between August 15 and August 21 the case rates per 100,000 people fell by an average 17 per cent in the 10 worst affected areas, headed by a drop of nearly half (44 per cent) in locked-down Blackburn with Darwen.
The rate of infection rose only in one area – Stoke-on-Trent – where the number of cases by a worrying 49 per cent to 27.4 per 100,000.
It remains highest in Oldham, Greater Manchester, where 57.3 people are infected per 100,000 - around one in every 1,700 people.
The rate of Covid-19 infection has fallen in all but one of the 10 worst affected areas in England, NHS data shows, with a week-on-week drop of 44 per cent in Blackburn and Darwen
The number of officially diagnosed people in the UK has been increasing in recent weeks but experts say this might be because targeted testing is catching a greater proportion of people who have the virus, even if there aren’t actually more of them
HOW ARE COVID-19 RATES CHANGING IN HARD-HIT AREAS?
Cases per 100,000 people
% change week-on-week
The rates of infection in England now vary widely across the country with some areas still badly hit by the virus while others are almost Covid-free.
Worst-affected areas tend to be in the North and Midlands with the exception of Swindon, data shows, while cases are lower in across the south.
According to statistics published by NHS Digital, Oldham, Blackburn with Darwen, Leicester and Manchester are the worst affected places, each with more than 40 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 people.
Following them, with between 30 and 39 cases, are Swindon, Bradford, Rochdale and Bury.
And with between 25 and 29 cases per 100,000 are Stoke-on-Trent, Calderdale and Salford.
But cases fell in all those places, except Stoke, in the third week of August, suggesting that local lockdowns and increased testing are helping to keep a lid on smaller outbreaks.
In Oldham the case rate fell by 40 per cent in a week, while it dropped by 27 per cent in Leicester, 36 per cent in Calderdale, 33 per cent in Bradford and 19 per cent in Manchester.
Much of the North West around Greater Manchester still faces tough restrictions on where people can mix with other households and which businesses can open, and there is a targeted local lockdown in Leicester.
Promising trends in the NHS figures add to good news from the Office for National Statistics testing survey data published last week.
The ONS estimated that there are now just 2,400 new cases of Covid-19 per day in the entire UK, a drop of a third from 3,800 the week before.
Statisticians at the Government-run agency said that while cases had been on the climb since July – prompting fears of a second wave – the epidemic’s upward trajectory had now been stopped in its tracks.
CASES HAVE BEEN GOING UP… BUT HOSPITALS ARE EMPTY, TOP DOCTOR SAYS
Hospitals are empty despite coronavirus cases having gone up over the past month – and it could be because the most vulnerable to the disease have already died, an intensive care specialist claimed today.
Dr Ron Daniels, a consultant in the West Midlands, said there are barely any Covid-19 patients being admitted despite government infections showing cases had risen throughout July.
More than 1,000 Britons are testing positive for the life-threatening disease each day, on average, data shows – but the figures appears to have started dropping. There are fewer than 100 daily hospital admissions for the virus.
For comparison, up to 5,000 people were diagnosed daily during the darkest days of the crisis in April, and as many as 2,500 of these patients needed hospital care.
However, hospital admission figures at the height of the crisis need to be treated with caution because they were inflated due to a counting error, it emerged last night.
Dr Daniels believes the recent spike in infections is due to young people catching the coronavirus more, who are unlikely to get severely ill and need hospital care.
And older and vulnerable populations may have already had the disease and died, or are being more cautious in fear of catching Covid-19.
Other scientists have theorised the coronavirus has mutated to become less deadly, but this is ‘slightly optimistic’ in Dr Daniels’ eyes.
The team calculated that 2,400 new infections are occurring in England each day, which they admitted was ‘lower than the previous week’.
But they said: ‘Our modelling suggests that there is not enough evidence to say at this point there has been a fall in incidence in the most recent week.’
Instead, the statisticians claimed the outbreak has ‘levelled off’. For comparison, the ONS estimated that around 4,200 people were getting infected each day at the end of July.
Official data in recent weeks has shown that cases of coronavirus in the UK have been increasing again after a lull in July.
After more than six weeks recording fewer than 1,000 cases per day from June 27 to August 8, the Department of Health’s testing programme has since recorded over 1,000 new diagnoses on 12 days out of 16.
And in the past month the daily average number of people diagnosed each day has surged, rising from 668 per day on July 24 to 1,043 on August 24.
Despite this, there has not been a spike in the number of people needing hospital treatment or people dying.
Experts say testing may simply getting more accurate now that it is more widespread, and that it shows a greater proportion of the true cases, even if there aren’t actually more of them.
Professor Duncan Young, an Intensive Care Medicine expert at the University of Oxford, said: ‘There are at least three possibilities for the rising “test-positive” case rate compared with hospitalisations.
‘One: More people overall are being tested, but the proportion of the population (prevalence) is steady, so it is simply that more cases are being detected.
‘Two: The proportion of tested individuals that are positive is rising (i.e. there are really more cases).
‘Three: The tracing system has caused more patients who are at higher risk to be tested (because of exposure) meaning there were more positive tests in those tested but maybe not in the population.
‘It could also be a mix of all three.
‘If you look at the test and trace stats… the positive rate went from 1.12 per cent to 1.54 per cent over the same period. Thus the test numbers have gone up by nearly 20 per cent whilst the positive rate went up only slightly.
‘It is therefore very possible that the increase in cases is mostly related to increased testing, but will a small additional effect from the increased prevalence.’
The Office for National Statistics estimates 2,400 people are contracting the disease every day, down 37 per cent from the 3,800 the previous week
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