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Drop in numbers infected with Covid-19 in UK after lockdown

A person passes a 'Don't help the virus spread' government coronavirus sign on Commercial road in Bournemouth, during England's third national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. Pic by Andrew Matthews

By Jane Kirby, Sam Blewett and Shaun Connolly

There has been a slight drop in the number of people infected with coronavirus in England after lockdown measures were introduced, new figures show.

Data from the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) infection survey shows an estimated one in 55 people in private households in England had Covid-19 between January 10 and 16, down from one in 50 people for the Christmas period of December 27 to January 2.

The data is from a random sample of people, including those with no symptoms, but does not include care homes, hospitals or other institutional settings.

It comes after a separate study called React, from Imperial College London, found the prevalence of coronavirus across England increased by 50% between early December and the second week of January.

For that study, 143,000 volunteers were tested in England between January 6 and 15, with results showing that one in 63 people were infected.

The new ONS study data estimates that around one in 35 people in private households in London had Covid-19 between January 10 and 16 – the highest figure for any region in England.

Around one in 40 people in north-east England had Covid-19 during this period, alongside one in 50 in north-west England and the West Midlands.

The other estimates are: one in 55 people in south-east England, one in 60 in the East Midlands, one in 75 in eastern England, one in 80 in south-west England and one in 85 in Yorkshire and the Humber.

Meanwhile, in Wales, around one in 70 people had Covid-19 between January 10 and 16 – unchanged from the previous estimate.

In Northern Ireland, the figure was one in 60 people, up from one in 200 for the December period, while the estimate for Scotland was broadly unchanged, up slightly from around one in 115 people for December 25 to 31 to one in 100 for January 10 to 16.

It comes as ministers are considering paying £500 to everyone who tests positive for coronavirus to increase the number of people abiding by quarantine rules.

Environment Secretary George Eustice stressed the need for people to comply with the isolation rules when contacted by NHS Test and Trace amid concerns of low compliance.

Scientists welcomed the suggestion of more financial support but Treasury sources were adamant the plan will not go ahead, with one telling the PA news agency bluntly: “Won’t happen.”

The proposal of extending £500 payments to everyone who tests positive for Covid-19 in England, rather than just those who are on low incomes and are unable to work from home, is estimated to cost up to £453 million per week.

It is the “preferred position” of Matt Hancock’s Department of Health and Social Care, according to a leaked document seen by The Guardian.

Mr Eustice told Sky News: “We do need people, if they are asked to self-isolate because they have been contacted through our Test and Trace, we do need them to self-isolate.

“And, obviously, we always review the reasons why they might not.”

On the payment, Mr Eustice added: “No decisions have been made on this.

“We are always keeping multiple policies under review.”

There was hostility to the proposal in some parts of the Government, with one source saying the plan “incentivises people to catch Covid”.

But there was support from experts, with Professor Stephen Reicher, who is advising the Government’s coronavirus response, saying universal payments to self-isolate must form an “essential element of our pandemic response”.

The Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (Spi-B) adviser told BBC News: “You can’t have a bureaucratic system, you can’t have a system where people don’t know whether they will get the support or not, it has to be immediate.

“The way to do that is to make it universal.”

He said a “comprehensive package of care”, including easy access to money, is “the big hole that we have to fill if we want to succeed”.

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