Worrying data from the biggest national Covid-19 surveillance study suggests new infections are still not falling.
The REACT study by Imperial College London has analysed swab tests carried out on 111,000 people across England between January 6 and 15.
The trend from the previous round of swab testing before Christmas suggests rates started going down towards the end of December but may have started to rise again when people went back to work in January.
Researchers identified an R value of 1.04 over the period and warned hospitalisations will continue to rise for at least a fortnight before they expect a very slow decline.
Prof Paul Elliott, director of the REACT programme, said: “R is either flat or possibly going up a bit, that seems to be the trend unless something changes.
“The fact that it’s not going down as potentially serious consequences to the main kind of impacts of this in the health terms between impacts of this.”
Rates in over-65s had more than doubled since the pre-Christmas round of testing between November 25 and December 3 to 0.94% of this age group.
Overall in the period up to last Friday 1.58% of the population had coronavirus.
Government testing data showing a drop in confirmed cases could reflect the fall REACT detected in the days immediately after Christmas.
However the study suggests it will not continue and predict a much slower fall in infections than during the first lockdown.
Experts believe this could be due to the more contagious variant, more household mixing and more people going out to work.
Author Prof Steven Riley, infectious disease expert at Imperial College London, said: “We don’t see a strong period of decline which we might have expected.”
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