The number of people with coronavirus in England fell for the first time in three months, official data revealed today.
Mass tests by the Office of National Statistics show that 633,000 people – 1.16 percent of the population, or one in 85 people – carried the virus last week and that the outbreak is "leveling off".
Estimated from tests run through last Saturday November 21st, the number takes into account the impact of a two-week lockdown and has declined for the first time since September.
The last time the country's outbreak shrank was at the end of summer, in the week leading up to August 25, when the projected number of infections fell from 28,200 to 27,100 – it has risen steadily since then during the second wave and is now 23 times higher than it was before schools and universities returned.
However, a laboratory error means the ONS cannot estimate how many people become infected with the virus each day.
Statisticians usually publish the number weekly and last Friday there were 38,900 daily cases for the week ended November 14. That number was down 10,000 a day from 47,700 the week before, and another decrease was expected this week as a result of the second lockdown on filtering through statistics.
ONS data, believed to be the most accurate picture of the England outbreak, was released a day earlier when the Department of Health announced which areas will face heavy local lockdowns when national regulations are lifted next week.
The East Midlands, which include Leicester, Derby, Peterborough and Nottingham, was the only part of England where the outbreak increased over the past week. Infection rates decreased in every other region.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock spoke in the House of Commons this morning when he announced that most of the country will continue to be banned from seeing other people or going to the pub indoors. A detailed list of animal measures has been announced and will last until a short break over Christmas.
Much of the north of England, including Greater Manchester, Newcastle and the Northeast, most of Yorkshire and much of the Midlands, will continue to be subject to the strictest Tier 3 rules, forcing restaurants to remain closed and socializing everywhere except in parks, beaches or other public outdoor areas.
The Department of Health today announced the new lockdown levels England will be split into if the national lockdown ends December 2nd
"In the past few weeks the positivity rate in England has shown signs of leveling," the report said.
Oxford University biologist Professor James Naismith, who is not involved in the work of the ONS, said today: “The prevalence is falling as social constraints take effect.
& # 39; There is more good news that the number of new admissions to hospitals every day is falling and the number of people in intensive care has decreased.
“Unfortunately, as we said yesterday with 696 deaths announced, it will take some time for increasing social restrictions to take hold. It's not unalloyed good news, the ONS data suggests that some areas of country prevalence may have increased. Obviously, the measures should lower the incidence everywhere.
"As we approach Christmas, there is great uncertainty about what will happen."
Test and Trace reaches no more than 60 percent of the close contacts for the sixth week in a row
Test and Trace couldn't reach more than 60 percent of the close contacts of people who tested positive for the virus for the sixth straight week.
Figures from the Ministry of Health show that 60.3 percent of the close contacts were achieved in the seven-day period up to November 18. Since the first week of October, when 63.2 percent of close contacts reached 63.2 percent of close contacts, no more than 61 percent have been contacted and asked to self-isolate.
137,000 of nearly 350,000 people who were around someone who tested positive for the virus for more than 15 minutes were missing, the highest number since the system launched in May.
The failure means that thousands of people who may be infected with the virus continue to walk on main roads and use public transport, which may further spread the disease.
In Covid-19 cases, the tracers reached less than the week before.
In the last week for which data is available, it has hit 84.9 percent, or 21,000, of nearly 157,000 people. This is a decrease from 85.9 percent the previous week.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth warned in the House of Commons today that the system – which was believed to have already cost £ 22 billion – is not offering good value to taxpayers.
Former Talk Talk CEO Baroness Dido Harding has come under increasing pressure due to poor service performance to leave the company and move it on to someone with experience in the healthcare sector.
The ONS report shows that infection rates still vary widely across the country and that they are still high in much of the north.
It is believed that three times as many people are infected in Yorkshire and Humber as in the east of England, where infection rates were 1.9 percent – one in 53 people – and 0.6 percent – one in 167.
Northwest, Northeast, East Midlands and West Midlands all have higher infection rates than the English average, which was around 1.2 percent.
London, the southeast and the southwest, along with the east of the country, all had sub-par rates.
The percentage of people believed to be carrying the virus rose only in the East Midlands last week, while it fell in all other places.
The data also decreased in all but one age group, the data shows, with the spread of the virus in teenagers increasing again.
"Over the past week, positivity rates have only increased in secondary school children, and positivity rates have decreased in adults 35 and older," the report said.
“It seems that the rates are flattening out in the youngest age group, as well as in the 12-24 and 25-34 school years. The rates are still highest among children and young adults of secondary school age. "
This week's infection survey is based on the results of 202,607 swab tests performed over the past fourteen days, of which 2,659 returned positive results from 2,440 people.
The data usually gives an estimate of how many people become infected with coronavirus on a daily basis, but this week didn't.
As an explanation, the ONS said: & # 39; There were some problems with the data from one of the laboratories this week, which has led to greater uncertainty …
"Due to the significant quality assurance that has been done on estimates of positivity rates, we have not been able to include incidence data this week, but will be available as usual next week."
There was a problem with tests being done in the Milton Keynes laboratory, one of the largest in the country.
Tests that went through this lab were removed from the results, according to the ONS, because the percentage of positive tests "rose very sharply and abnormally" after technicians reported contamination of the chemicals used during the process. The results of these tests would be checked, the researchers said.
Although removing the false test results had a "negligible result" from the published data, the ONS said the impact on the daily case numbers may have been greater because they are so much lower and more prone to hiccups.
The ONS report comes as the government set out today what will happen if England's national lockdown ends next week.
The country will revert to a three tier local system, albeit a tougher one than the one in summer and early fall, when scientists say tiers one and two were ineffective.
Although London and Liverpool were spared the hardest level three in a glimmer of light, only 700,000 people – one percent of the population – are subject to the strictest restrictions.
Meanwhile, as of the breakdown released today, around 55 million residents will find themselves on the toughest two tiers after the blanket national lockdown ends on December 2nd.
Tier 3 will be imposed on huge parts of the country – including all of Kent, Greater Manchester and Lancashire, much of the Midlands and Bristol – and put a wrecking ball through pubs, restaurants and clubs that are now forced to close.
Only Cornwall, Scilly and the Isle of Wight were given the loosest tier, which allows socializing in houses and pubs subject to the rule of six.
As a result, most of England will be banned from meeting other households indoors, except for five days over Christmas. Pubs can only serve alcohol with "substantial" meals.
Steve Baker, the leader of the Tory rebels, warned that the government must explain how to balance economic damage with public health.
“The authoritarianism at work today is really appalling. But is it necessary and proportionate to the threat posed by this disease? & # 39; he tweeted.
"In terms of the economy and the coronavirus, my fear is that we are so far down the rabbit hole now that we have forgotten we even stepped into it."
London was spared after data showed the coronavirus was rapidly falling off in more than two-thirds of the boroughs – and seemingly stalling in the rest.
Liverpool have also run a successful campaign to control their outbreak after mass testing in the city.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock officially revealed the division of land in the Commons after days of the dispute, saying the country must remain "vigilant".
He also defended the criteria used for complaints that they were too vague and "fingers in the air".
But in the midst of shambolic scenes, the government previously hired an online zip code checker.
While local residents, journalists and MPs struggled to collect the news about the decisions made, the site immediately crashed under the weight of the traffic.
Tier 3 means that millions of people would be banned from mixing indoor and outdoor households, and pubs can only offer take-away service or have to close entirely.
The Prime Minister has placed most of England Tier 2 and Tier 3 despite being told that it is "difficult to justify" cases now falling in every region of the country.