James Gallagher, BBC News Health and Science Correspondent provides an interesting update on this current situation.

He discusses that every source of data agrees that there is much coronavirus around, but that it has started to fall.

The latest number of cases is 34,029 on Friday 5th November, down from 43,467 on the same day last week.

These figures are skewed by the number of people choosing to get tested and clearly some people will not.  

The REACT study at Imperial and the ONS both test people at random, whether they are sick or not to see if they are harbouring the virus.  This makes the studies less biased but people test positive some time after catching the virus, so the picture does not show whether they can transmit or are suffering symptoms.

REACT recorded the highest levels of coronavirus since it started after the first wave but shows that these cases have started to fall in recent days.  

The ONS estimates 1 in 55 people in the UK has COVID-19 that is about 1.27 million.  However, this data goes only up to 30th October so is also out of date.  

The R number for the UK, that is the average number of people which each infected person passes the virus on to, is between 0.9 and 1.1.  This suggests that the level of infections is roughly stable, but the way it is calculated means it again reflects what was happening last week.

The Zoe COVID study app, which works in real time by getting people to log their symptoms, has recorded a 5% fall in COVID in the past week. 

The number of cases in school-age pupils surged through September and October, but is now in decline.

This fall is likely to be due to a mix of a rampant outbreak in schools, which has built up natural immunity, pupils who have been vaccinated, and the half-term effect when kids are no longer mixing in the classroom.  

The REACT scientists say they witnessed a similar effect 12 months ago and cases rose once the school gates reopened.

The precise balance of those effects on COVID in children remains uncertain – is it a school break or is it herd immunity.

There has been a steady increase in the older age groups, but it is worth stressing the infections are at low levels and it is not yet clear how much the rise will matter.  The number of people being admitted to hospital appears to have plateaued at about 1,000 a day.

The data shows that we are in a much better position than last year which resulted in lockdowns.

However, there is no certainty about how the next few months over winter will go. The big questions are:

  • Will cases in children continue to fall? 
  •  If they do so will that lead to falls in older and other age groups?
  • How will the booster campaign go?  
  • What will the weather be like and if the temperature drops, will we all begin to meet indoors?  
  • What will other diseases do and how will they put pressure on the National Health Service?

Changes in behaviour could still change the course of this pandemic.  The situation with children is much closer to pre-pandemic norms but that is not the same in adults. 

There is also the potential for new variants, such as the Delta offshoot to cause problems.  

It is an extremely complex picture and not possible to predict at this stage.

The London General Practice, the leading London doctors’ clinic in Harley Street provides a full service for all aspects of COVID disease.  

It performs fit to fly, day eight and day five test for release, PCR swabs and a multidisciplinary approach to deal with long COVID.

Dr Paul Ettlinger

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