'Little chance of an imminent second wave', say experts as coronavirus cases recede across UK

Sarah Knapton
Drinkers stand within rings marked on the grass to maintain their social distance outside a bar in Canary Wharf, East London as further coronavirus lockdown restrictions are lifted in England - PA
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Coronavirus is in retreat across three quarters of England, latest figures show as infections continue to fall despite schools returning and shops reopening.

Experts said there was little chance of an imminent second wave, after Public Health England (PHE) published new data showing infection rates were decreasing in 114 of the 150 local authorities in the country.

Ahead of Super Saturday, there were fears that more localised lockdowns could be needed following the spike in Leicester.

However new figures showed that cases in the Midlands city have largely plateaued in the week to June 28, with some scientists arguing the recent upsurge could be a result of aggressive contact tracing following a cluster of outbreaks at factories and shops. 

Other towns and cities on the watch list for high infection rates, such as Barnsley, Oldham, Rochdale and Bradford have also seen cases drop substantially, falling as much as a third week on week, the data show.

Search for your area in the table below to see the weekly change in cases for your area

Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 tests by English local authority

Across England, the rate of positive tests per 100,000 fell from 10.08 in the week to June 21 to 7.7 in the week to June 28 - a drop of 23 per cent. 

Professor Robert Dingwall, a scientific adviser to the Government, said: “The virus is clearly in retreat. 

“There is a belief in some quarters in public health that the disease can be eradicated with aggressive public health measures but that comes at a massive cost to society. The UK is not New Zealand. We are a global trading nation.”

New surveillance data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also suggests that the overall number of people infected has halved from 1 in 1,100 to 1 in 2,200, suggesting just 25,000 currently have coronavirus. 

Carl Heneghan, Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University, added: “Overall the data are reassuring with no indication  of a second wave – only Leicester sticks out as being unusual.

“Within the test and trace system and quarantine you would expect a temporary increase in household cases.” 

In five English local authorities no cases were reported in the week to June 28. They include Portsmouth, Bath and North East Somerset and Torbay.

Seven areas, including some London boroughs, recorded just one case in the same period - including Lambeth, Southampton, Gateshead and Camden.

The Telegraph understands that ministers have ruled out further local lockdowns being imposed imminently, although they will be closely monitoring testing data from covid hotspots this weekend to see if the latest easements have any impact on infection rates. 

“We’re focusing on what happens after Saturday rather than what comes before it,” one source said.

“The focus is on getting Leicester under control rather than locking anywhere else down. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the near future, it all depends on what happens to the data.”

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Whitehall insiders suggested notable declines in cities and towns such as Bradford and Rochdale showed that more targeted measures were working and were averting the need for other places to follow Leicester.

Asked about the declines on Thursday afternoon, the Prime Minister’s spokesman also pointed to the success of “very localised action”, as seen in Kirklees, parts of London and Weston-super-Mare.

A Government source added: “In places like Kirklees, Enfield and Weston, it does feel like identifying local outbreaks early and taking action seems to be working. 

“In Weston...we closed the hospital to new admissions, tested and retested all patients and staff, isolated everyone who tested positive, a deepclean of the hospital. 

“We worked well with the council and they increased access to testing.” 

They also pointed out that whilst Bradford and Leicester had similar demographics, officials had found that with the former the “council had worked really well with us.”

“We had buy-in locally, their local teams have been very effective in getting stuff done,” the source added.

“You can have the same demography but no two places are going to be the same.” 

However Jeremy Hunt said a lack of widespread community testing had allowed cases to rise in some areas undetected, and called for mass surveillance of city populations.

The chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee said the entire population of Leicester should have been tested ‘immediately’ once a new outbreak was suspected,

Writing for The Telegraph, Mr Hunt says: "Why did it take so long to get [mass testing] up and running in Leicester?"

He adds: "It clearly took far too long for central and local governments to share data, activate a plan and implement targeted mass testing. 

“Why did we not just immediately test the whole city population? And why are we not doing this right now in Bradford and Barnsley? The quicker we identify asymptomatic carriers, the less likely whole cities will have to be locked down."