Covid-19 test positivity rate DROPS for the first time since July

More proof England is past the worst of the second wave? Test positivity rate DROPS for the first time in almost three months (and it’s gone down in EVERY age group)

  • 9.7% of Pillar 2 tests 8 yielded a positive result, down from 10.2% previous week
  • First time the test positivity rate has dropped since the week ending August 2
  • Test positivity rates are the proportion of swabs that come back positive

The percentage of coronavirus tests that come back positive has dropped for the first time in England in almost three months, according to official data. 

It raises further hopes that the country is getting a better grip on its second wave and may already be through the thick of it.

Experts say one of the most accurate and fair ways to track the virus’ trajectory is to look at test positivity rates – the proportion of swabs that come back positive.  

If a country has a high positivity rate it means the centralised system is struggling to keep up with the outbreak. But a low rate means only a small amount of the population actually have the disease.

A weekly Public Health England report published today found 9.7 per cent of Pillar 2 tests carried out in the week up to November 8 yielded a positive result. This was down from 10.2 per cent the seven days prior.

It marks the first time the Pillar 2 test positivity rate has dropped since the week ending August 2. Pillar 2 are those done in testing centres, drive-through clinics and in people’s homes – which account for the vast majority of all tests. 

Pillar 1 tests – those done in hospitals – were also down week-on-week, dropping from 4.8 per cent to 4.5 per cent. It was the first time this figure had fallen since the week up to August 23.  

It comes as Britain today announced another 33,470 positive cases – 39 per cent more than last Thursday – despite indicators showing the outbreak is slowing down.

The case count is the highest since the Covid-19 outbreak began and comes a week after England’s second national lockdown started. It is an increase from 22,950 yesterday.

Unofficial statistics, however, suggest that the country’s outbreak had already started to slow down and shrink before the lockdown began on November 5, and it is expected to continue shrinking throughout November during the stringent rules.

The percentage of coronavirus tests that come back positive has dropped for the first time in England almost three months, according to official data

Last week’s test positivity rate was the highest it has ever been in England but a lack of widespread swabbing during the first wave means the two epidemics can’t be compared.

Less than 30,000 people are testing positive in Britain each day. For comparison, experts think well over 100,000 people were catching the virus daily in spring. 

The report shows the Pillar 2 test positivity rate fell in every age group in the last week, with those aged 10 to 19 still the most likely group to have the virus. 

Among teenagers it dropped from 20.9 per cent to 17.4 per cent in men and  17.1 to 15.5 per cent in women in the most recent week.

England’s coronavirus outbreak was already plateauing before the second national lockdown, according to a major Government-led surveillance study that casts more doubt on whether the autumn shutdown was necessary.

The REACT-1 project — which has been swabbing tens of thousands of people every week — found there had been a significant ‘slowdown’ in daily infections heading into November following a wave of new cases in the two months prior and they even suggested the R rate fell as low as 0.85 at the start of this month.

Imperial College London experts behind the research said the drop was observed ‘right across the country, both North and South, and was not being driven by any one region’ — suggesting the three-tiered system of curbs was just starting to take effect before ministers caved and hit the lockdown panic button.

However, the scientists estimated the virus was still infecting 100,000 people every day in England before lockdown and that a million people are carrying the disease at any given time. They said the second economically-crippling shutdown was justified because transmission is still too high.

But on October 25 the Imperial team were predicting there were 96,000 daily infections and that the outbreak was doubling every every nine days – gloomy forecasts that were used by SAGE as evidence to justify the draconian measures now imposed on the country. So even though 100,000 is still much higher than officials would like, it signals the virus was already beginning to decelerate.

People in this age group were thought to be behind the late September surge in cases, when schools and universities returned to education.  

Scientists believe they then passed it onto their middle-aged parents, which helped fuel the explosion of cases this autumn.

The figures show the percentage of people in their 40s testing positive in the most recent week was 15.4 per cent for men and 8.5 per cent for women – down from 16.5 and 9.3, respectively.

For males in their 50s, the rate dropped from 17.4 per cent to 16.5 per cent. For females it was 7.8 per cent to 7.5 per cent.

Among over-60s – the most vulnerable group – rates fell from 13.8 to 12.7 in men and 7.2 to 7.0 in women.

The results were revealed in PHE’s Weekly Influenza and Covid-19 report and raises hopes the worst of the second wave could be already over.

Though Britain is not out of the woods yet. According to criteria published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in May, a positive rate of less than 5 per cent is one indicator that the epidemic is under control in a country.

It comes after Britain announced 33,470 more Covid-19 cases, 40 per cent more than last Thursday. 

Although today’s number is high, Department of Health case counts do not pin to a particular day – the 33,000 infections announced today will have come from tests done on numerous days over the past week or more. It does not mean that all those people tested positive today.

Testing data shows that the number of people testing positive spiked on Monday, November 9, when 24,642 people who took swabs were infected. Tests from this day accounted for 11,685 of today’s total.

The testing system is also known to not pick up everyone infected with Covid-19 because many never get symptoms. This means the number of people testing positive can fluctuate without a fundamental change in the size of the outbreak.

Data from the Government-run REACT mass-testing study today said it had seen a ‘slowdown’ in the spread of the virus at the start of this month, while scientists behind the Covid Symptom Study estimate the R number to now be below one. 

But experts agree that the number of people currently infected with the virus is very high – the best estimates put it higher than half a million – which was part of Boris Johnson’s rationale for imposing lockdown 2.0.

Office for National Statistics data last Friday suggested this might have been starting to level off before the lockdown began under the three-tier local rules.

The REACT-1 project — which has been swabbing tens of thousands of people every week — found there had been a significant ‘slowdown’ in daily infections heading into November following a wave of new cases in the two months prior and they even suggested the R rate fell as low as 0.85 at the start of this month.

The REACT-1 project — which has been swabbing tens of thousands of people every week — found there had been a significant slowdown in infections heading into November following a wave of new cases in the two months prior

Scientists on the Covid Symptom Study claimed today the R rate of the coronavirus across all of Britain is now 0.9 meaning the outbreak has started shrinking and the ‘end is in sight’ for the second wave

Imperial College London experts behind the research said the drop was observed ‘right across the country, both North and South, and was not being driven by any one region’ — suggesting the three-tiered system of curbs was just starting to take effect before ministers caved and hit the lockdown panic button.

However, the scientists estimated the virus was still infecting 100,000 people every day in England before lockdown and that a million people are carrying the disease at any given time.

They said the second economically-crippling shutdown was justified because transmission is still too high.

But on October 25 the Imperial team were predicting there were 96,000 daily infections and that the outbreak was doubling every every nine days – gloomy forecasts that were used by SAGE as evidence to justify the draconian measures now imposed on the country.

So even though 100,000 is still much higher than officials would like, it signals the virus was already beginning to decelerate.

Professor Steve Riley and Professor Paul Elliott, the study leaders from Imperial, said that they had actually been expecting the level of infection to be much higher because of the rate of increase at the start of the month.

They suggested that the three-tier lockdown system may have been starting to kick in towards the end of October, and that worse weather and the half term break may have cut down how much people were going out to socialise.

Although infection rates remain high, Professor Riley, an infectious disease expert at Imperial College, said the change in levels of infection in early November ‘could be interpreted as a plateau or a gradual decline’.

He and colleague Professor Paul Elliott, an epidemiologist, said it had been difficult to work out why cases appeared to fall and then rise again shortly before the national lockdown.

Half term or colder, wetter weather may have stopped people socialising as much and brought infections down, they said, while speculation about a major lockdown may later have caused people to throw caution to the wind and go out more around Halloween which then triggered a spike.

But they agreed that the rapid rate of increase they saw in the beginning and middle of October did not continue into November, when the most recent round of tests – Round 6 – ended.

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