Covid-19 cases have dropped by a third during the second lockdown, a major new study has found.
Some of the biggest hotspots in England saw the biggest improvements in driving new infections down, according to the results.
Despite the progress, Health Secretary Matt Hancock found time to warn that the country not to “take our foot off the pedal just yet.”
As numbers began to tail off, cases still remain relatively high across England.
But the findings by Imperial College London estimated that the all-important R rate had fallen to 0.88, meaning patients are transmitting the virus to less than one other new person.
That means the epidemic is shrinking, rather than spreading.
The findings were based on research done by swabbing more than 100,000 people between November 13 and 24, the middle of the second national lockdown.
Results suggested that there had actually been a 30% fall between the last study and the most recent research.
Before that cases were accelerating, the BBC reported, roughly doubling every nine days.
But new cases are now coming down, more slowly than they increased, halving every 37 days.
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The figures will be a boost for Brits hoping to see the back of the epidemic – but Mr Hancock warned there was still a long way to go.
He said: “This latest data shows we must maintain our resolve and we cannot afford to take our foot off the pedal just yet despite the very encouraging fall in cases and advances in vaccines.
“The next few weeks and months are the busiest time of year for our NHS, so it’s vital we all continue to follow new local restrictions, wash our hands, wear a face covering and observe social distancing.”
In the North West and North East, though – regions with some of the highest numbers of cases – infections fell by more than half.
The findings suggest cases are now highest in the East Midlands and West Midlands.
Lockdown came into force across England on 5 November but national data, based on people with symptoms, suggests there was a spike in cases in the week after.
Professor Paul Elliott, director of the programme at Imperial, said: “Our robust data offer encouraging signs for England’s epidemic, where we’re seeing a fall in infections at the national level and in particular across regions that were previously worst affected.
“These trends suggest that the tiered approach helped to curb infections in these areas and that lockdown has added to this effect.
“As we approach a challenging time of year, it’s even more vital that through our actions and behaviours we all play our part in helping to keep the virus at bay.”
Lockdown comes to an end on December 2 where it will be replaced by the 3 Tier system.
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