Covid cases are consistently falling for the first time since February – but we’re not home and dry just yet.
A total of 29,173 cases were reported by the government on Sunday, down from the 48,161 recorded a week ago on July 18. It is the fifth day in a row that the number of daily reported cases has dropped, with average daily cases down 15% week on week. The last time cases fell for five consecutive days was between February 5 and 9.
Minsters have been quick to applaud the UK’s swift vaccination programme in limiting the spread of coronavirus. The vaccine programme is indeed largely to thank – and getting a vaccine remains the best way to protect yourself and others from the virus – but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine specialising in infectious diseases at University of East Anglia, says some case reductions could simply be the result of school closures for the summer holidays – and the fact that children are no longer being tested as regularly. It’s also still “too early” for the data to reflect the impact of the July 19 relaxation of lockdown, he says.
“I would caution that this may just be a temporary slowing in reports before we start to see a return to exponential growth towards the end of [this] week as a result of the ending of restrictions last week,” he says. “We will start to have some idea towards the end of the week, but it won’t be until August 9 (three weeks after ‘Freedom Day’ before we know for certain.”
Children are suddenly not mixing in the same way and we are yet to see the impact the summer holidays have on transmission, says Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, who warns that “any good news about lower cases as schools close can expect to be reversed come September”.
“It remains the case that mixing of people will remain the most significant driver of infection numbers, while vaccinations will have the largest effect to reduce those numbers,” he adds. “Of course, the vaccines are not 100% effective at reducing transmission, and the virus cannot spread at all without social interactions, so ongoing care needs to be taken while numbers are still high.”
There is some good news, though, particularly in relation to the Delta variant. While cases may increase as a result of the July 19 unlocking, Professor Hunter is hopeful a spike may be temporary.
“If you look at the course of the Delta epidemic from early May it was clear that the rate of increase in cases was already slowing by June. But there was a significant acceleration in new cases about eight to 10 days after the first England game in the Euros,” he explains.
“There was also a subsequent acceleration around the same time after the quarter finals. But after both events, the increase started slowing fairly soon after that despite the fact that the games were continuing. Also, in Scotland case numbers started to fall about 11 days after they left the Championships and case numbers have continued to fall since.
“If such a perturbation as the Euros caused only a temporary acceleration in the increase in case numbers, despite games continuing, this may bode well for the impact of July 19. It could suggest we will see only a short-term boost towards the end of next week followed by slowing or even a decline in the days following. Time will tell.”