LONDON: The prevalence of COVID-19 infections in England has dropped since January, but the rate of decline has slowed, and cases might be on the rise in some areas, researchers at Imperial College London said on Thursday (Mar 4).
The researchers said that national prevalence was 0.49 per cent, down two-thirds from the 1.57 per cent recorded in January, but added that compared to interim findings for February, estimated prevalence had risen in London and the South East, as well as the East and West Midlands.
"The prevalence ... in England continues to fall although the rate of decline has slowed," Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London, told reporters, adding that prevalence needed to be lower to give the vaccine roll-out the best chance of success.
"There are some areas where prevalence may be increasing ... we really do need to get the infection rate lower."
The study, known as REACT-1, is one of England's biggest prevalence surveys. More than 165,400 volunteers were tested in England between Feb 4 and 23 to measure infection prevalence in the general population.
The easing of England's national lockdown is set to begin on Monday, when schools reopen. Britain has given more than 20 million people a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Health minister Matt Hancock said the evidence that cases were falling overall was encouraging, but it was important that people still stuck to the rules ahead of each stage of the "cautious but irreversible" road map out of lockdown.
"There is some cause for concern that our hard-won progress may be slowing down, and even reversing in some regions, so it is important we remain vigilant," he said.