Covid lockdown shows signs of working in England, expert says


There are early signs that England’s second lockdown is reducing Covid infection rates, a prominent scientist has said, cautioning that it is too soon to say how low they will be by early December.

The extent to which the current measures suppress the spread of the virus is likely to determine how tight restrictions will be after 2 December, when the lockdown is expected to end, and whether there is scope for any relaxation in restrictions around Christmas.

Prof Neil Ferguson, an expert in modelling disease outbreaks at Imperial College London, who resigned from the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) in May, pointed to both pillar 2 case data – testing in the community – and new admissions to hospital as markers of a potential impact.

“There is evidence that infection rates are plateauing and may be starting to go down slowly,” he said.

Is lockdown working? – graphic

He said these trends could be attributed to lockdown measures, although cases were already slowing somewhat due to the effect of tier 3 restrictions in some parts of the country.

“It is too early to assess what the overall impact by 2 December will be, though we should not expect too much, given schools are still open,” he said. “A halving of infection prevalence over the four weeks would be a positive result.”

Ferguson said that deciding what control measures were introduced after lockdown was lifted would be key.

“We now have clear evidence that tier 3 measures were working to bring down infection rates in some areas. Tier 2 was also having an impact, but a smaller one,” he said. “The decision is a political one, but if we don’t want to see infection levels rebound from 3 December, my assessment is that measures between tier 2 and tier 3 will be necessary in the great majority of locations.”

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The lag between restrictions being introduced and their effects on the number of cases becoming apparent is down to a number of factors.

It generally takes about five days between someone becoming infected and showing symptoms – although it can take up to 14 days – with a test only recommended once symptoms have developed. It can then take a couple of days to receive test results, said Ferguson, while approximately a week of data is needed to see a trend.

It can take about two weeks before those infected deteriorate to the point of requiring hospital care, with more time generally passing before death occurs.

At present, data on infections in the community from a survey of randomly selected households, performed by the Office for National Statistics, is only available to 6 November and hence does not yet reveal the impact of lockdown.

Government data on cases by date reported reveals 20,291 people in England were reported as testing positive for coronavirus on Thursday. That is up from 17,189 on 18 November – breaking a six-day run of falling case numbers. However, unlike the ONS survey this data can be influenced by levels of testing available in different areas.


Over past two weeks hospital admissions have grown, although there are some signs they may be growing at a slower rate than previous weeks.

“Looking at the data by day of specimen, we have only had one full week reported since the start of the lockdown,” said Prof Steven Riley, co-author of the React-1 study and also from Imperial College London. “Given the speculation about a possible increase in social contact just prior to the lockdown, we need the data for this week before we start drawing conclusions.”

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According to a Guardian analysis of case numbers by sample date from the government figures up to 14 November, the only English regions where cases are falling week on week are the north-west and north-east and Yorkshire – a pattern that suggests the falls are probably a result of the tier 3 restrictions that were already in place before the national lockdown.

New national restrictions are due to come into effect in England on Thursday, after MPs vote on them, and remain in place at least until 2 December.

What can I leave home for?

  • For childcare or education, where it is not provided online.
  • To go to work unless it can be done from home.
  • Outdoor exercise either with household members or with one person from another household.
  • For all medical reasons and appointments.
  • To escape injury or harm, such as domestic abuse.
  • To provide care for vulnerable people or volunteer.
  • To shop for food and essentials.
  • To see people in your support bubble.
  • Children will still be able to move between homes if their parents are separated.

Government say the list is not exhaustive, and other permitted reasons for leaving home may be set out later. People could face fines from police for leaving their home without a legally permitted excuse.

Can different households mix indoors?

No, not unless they are part of an “exclusive” support bubble, which allows a single-person household to meet and socialise with another household.

Parents are allowed to form a childcare bubble with another household for the purposes of informal childcare, where the child is 13 or under.

Can different households mix outdoors?

People are allowed to meet one person from another household socially and for exercise in outdoor public spaces, which does not include private gardens.

Can I attend funerals, weddings or religious services?

Up to 30 people will still be allowed to attend funerals, while stone settings and ash scatterings can continue with up to 15 guests.

Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies are not permitted except in “exceptional circumstances”. Places of worship must remain closed except for voluntary services, individual prayer and other exempt activities.

Can I travel in the UK or abroad for a holiday?

Most outbound international travel will be banned. There is no exemption for staying away from home for a holiday. This means people cannot travel internationally or within the UK, unless for work, education or other legally permitted exemptions.

Which businesses will close?

Everything except essential shops and education settings, which include nurseries, schools and universities, will close.

Entertainment venues will also have to close. Pubs, restaurants and indoor and outdoor leisure facilities will have to close their doors once more.

However, takeaway and delivery services will still be allowed, while construction and manufacturing will stay open.

Parents will still be able to access registered childcare and other childcare activities where reasonably necessary to enable parents to work. Some youth services may be able to continue, such as one-to-one youth work, but most youth clubs will need to close their doors.

Public services, such as jobcentres, courts, and civil registration offices will remain open.

There is no exemption for grassroots organised team sports. Elite sports will be allowed to continue behind closed doors as currently, including Premier League football matches.

Aaron Walawalkar

“It is genuinely a bit too soon to tell whether lockdown is working, but the effect of lockdown 2.0 is certainly lagging its predecessor,” said George Batchelor, a co-director of Edge Health, which helped compile the data. “Aside from schools and universities remaining open, casual observations would agree this is not a lockdown like the first one.” .

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Batchelor said any effect of the latest lockdown on hospitalisations, or deaths, would take even longer to emerge. “The primary focus of the government and Sage is ensuring that the second wave of Covid does not overwhelm the NHS. However, as we described when lockdown was introduced, the NHS is generally the last to feel the benefit of greater social distancing and reduced transmission.”


London and the south-east in particular are yet to experience this impact, with both regions’ three-day average for cases on 14 November up by a quarter compared with the week before. Hospital occupancy and ventilator use were also up by over a quarter week on week in both regions.

Prof Christina Pagel, director of the clinical operational research unit at University College London and a member of the Independent Sage group of experts, said: “England overall is going down, but only because of the north-west.

“The next few days will be really important to see what is happening [in London and the south-east] because it should be coming down this week – and if it is not coming down this week then that’s a problem.”



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