We’ve been in the January lockdown for almost a month now – but are the restrictions working to bring down cases?
The lockdown started January 6, following a week of record-high numbers of positive coronavirus tests. Despite being warned that allowing households to mix over the holiday could cause this, the government put it down to the spread of a new Covid-19 variant found originally in the south-east of England.
After this heartbreaking announcement, people are calling for the government to outline whether the UK restrictions are working.
Is lockdown working in England?
At the moment, the numbers suggest that lockdown isn’t working in England. 3,274,397 people were positive with coronavirus on January 27. This is up by over 100,000 from the previous week, where 3,135,985 people were positive with the virus.
Professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College, Steven Riley, predicted these findings in Imperial College London’s React study, one of the data sources used by the government to track the progress of coronavirus in the UK. The research showed that infection in England actually increased during the third lockdown, between January 6 and 15.
He said in an interview with Times Radio, “It’s long enough that, were the lockdown working effectively, we would certainly have hoped to have seen a decline.”
Previously lockdowns have shown a decline in cases, but he added that the current research “certainly doesn’t support the conclusion that lockdown is working”.
He also said that he was “extremely concerned” about the high infection rates in the community and that the number of people in hospital in England was “astronomically high”.
However, there has been a slower increase in daily new infections since the January lockdown. On January 19, 35,993 more people tested positive for Covid-19 in England. Comparatively, just one week later there were 18,884 new infections. This would suggest that in the coming weeks, overall levels of infection will slowly start to decline.
Overall, it seems that lockdown is working in the UK as a whole. New cases of Covid-19 are slowly declining and they’ve now reached their lowest point since December 20 last year, with 28,680 positive cases recorded on January 28. This is 83,303 fewer cases than seven days before.
It comes as the same Imperial College London React study also found that cases of the virus were steadily decreasing. The research covered the first two weeks of the lockdown starting in January, and found that trends differed across the UK. There was a slight rise in cases around the East Midlands during this time, fewer cases in London and the south-east and south-west of England, and cases were levelling in other parts of the country.
London, however, still had the highest number of people testing positive at 2.83%, which rose to more than 4% in 13 to 17 year olds and 18 to 24 year olds. There’s even the suggestion from the study that infections may have actually risen during the first week of the third lockdown.
Now cases in the capital appear to be going down, with data from January 29 showing that cases had declined. There are now 473 cases per 100,000 people.
While this is largely positive news, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College, Steven Riley, said that cases were “going in right direction but not fast enough”. He added that they were decreasing “by no means as fast as in lockdown one.”
Professor Paul Elliott, study lead, said that the infection rates “remain very night” but he was “definitely heartened by what looks like a decline”.
“The number of people infected with the virus is at the highest level that we’ve recorded since we began testing last May,” he said, “We’re not seeing the sharp drop in infections that happened under the first lockdown.
“And if infections aren’t brought down significantly, hospitals won’t be able to cope with the number of people that need critical care.”
During the third lockdown, new hospital admissions appeared to reach their peak seven days after the lockdown began. However, patient numbers have continued to rise – and started doing so from the highest ever point. Now there are over 37,000 people in hospital with Covid-19.
So while there’s optimism of the number of diagnosed cases going down, we haven’t seen the same results in the number of deaths or hospitalisations.
Speaking in the House of Commons, the prime minister addressed the UK’s startling death rate as he said, “I am deeply sorry to say that the number of people that have taken from us has surpassed 100,000, as the house was discussing only an hour or so ago, and I know the House will join me in offering condolences to all those who have lost loved ones.
“The most important thing we can do to honour their memory is to persevere against this virus with ever greater resolve, and that is why we have launched the biggest vaccination programme in British history.”
Is lockdown working in Wales?
The situation is similar in Wales as it is in England. Total cases are rising day by day but the numbers of new infections are slowly decreasing.
190,394 tested positive for coronavirus in Wales on January 27, compared to 186,797 exactly seven day before. While 306 people had a positive test on January 26, on January 19 there were 1,081 new cases. This is a dramatic decline of over 700 cases per day and according to the government’s trends, it looks like it’s on the downward slope.
To reflect the developments in the cases, the Welsh government have made some changes to their lockdown rules. This includes a gradual reopening of schools from February 22. It will start with the youngest pupils and then older students will be asked to return.
From January 30, people can exercise outdoors with one person from another household.
Is lockdown working in Scotland?
The situation in Scotland is fluctuating more than in the rest of the UK. It appears that the country is in a similar situation to England and Wales though. The numbers of total cases are steadily increasing but the numbers of daily new infections are on the decline.
176,532 people in total had Covid-19 on January 27 in Scotland, compared to seven days before when 169,493 had the virus. There were 1,103 new positive cases on January 26. This is a decent decrease from the 1,558 new cases one week before. However, new data for Friday January 30 suggests that there are 25 fewer people in hospital with Covid-19 in Scotland than there were the day before.
However, experts have warned that Scotland will take a “very cautious approach” to lifting the lockdown measures. Consultant in infectious diseases and vice chair of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN), Dr Gail Carson, said that the country’s recovery plan should be a “whole-society approach”.
Have lockdown restrictions worked in Northern Ireland?
Total cases in Northern Ireland are also on the increase, with new daily infections steadily in decline.
On January 27, 102,410 people had the virus in Northern Ireland. This was an increase from the 98,344 total cases a week before. On January 26, there were 623 new cases of the virus. One week before, there were 886 new cases.
The idea that the lockdown is working as a whole comes from this steady decline in new cases. It should reflect the total number of positive cases in a few weeks. When people get better from the illness, they begin testing negative. Combined with lower daily increased in infections, created by the lockdown, the overall rate of Covid-19 in the UK should decrease.
Why isn’t lockdown working?
As we’ve seen across the UK, the number of cases is still going up with new infections. Although they may be on the decline, they’re still contributing to increasing the high overall numbers.
When it comes to the effectiveness of lockdown, it’s the hospitalisations and deaths that we need to look at. Before the government can bring an end to the lockdown, these numbers need to be in decline as well.
There is still criticism from the lead experts, however, that cases are not coming down as fast enough.
This could be because the restrictions during the third lockdown have not been as strict as the first. Under the current exercise rules for lockdown, two people from different households can meet together outdoors. Many of the biggest industries in the UK, such as construction, are still open for business both indoors and outside. Until recently, anyone coming into the country didn’t have to give a negative coronavirus test. Flights were still incoming from all over the world. Rates of self-isolation after returning from abroad had also reached a record low, with less than 20% of people told to self-isolate actually doing so.
Experts have also reported that the struggle is related to people’s attitudes around the pandemic. Now more than ever before, people are bending the rules around the restrictions and have become comfortable doing so, according to the Covid-19 Social Study by University College London.
The survey asks 70,000 adults every week about the effects of the virus and social distancing. Recently, they’ve concluded that women follow the rules more closely than men. Wealthier people tend to be less compliant. Key workers also bend the rules more frequently (although this could be related more to their jobs). Adults aged 18 to 29 years old are the same.
In England, people follow the rules less than in other parts of the UK. As do people living in cities and adults living with children tend to follow the rules less too.
However, overall most people are in fact following the rules. Not always, but most of the time.