England's COVID-19 infections fall, R number could be below 1

People walk over London Bridge during morning rush hour, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in London, Britain, July 29, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
  • ONS says COVID-19 prevalence 1 in 75 in latest week
  • R number estimated between 0.8-1.1
  • Figures back up trend seen in daily case data

LONDON, Aug 6 (Reuters) - Fewer people in England had COVID-19 at the end of last month, while the closely watched reproduction "R" number might have dropped below 1, adding to evidence that the national epidemic has stopped growing.

Britain's Office for National Statistics (ONS) said 1 in 75 people in England were estimated to have had coronavirus in the week to July 31, down from 1 in 65 the week before.

Public Health England said the estimated R number in England was between 0.8 and 1.1, down sharply from last week's range of 1.1 to 1.4. read more

An R number below 1 suggests the pandemic is shrinking, while if it is above one, it suggests exponential growth. The daily growth rate range was estimated between -3% and +1%.

The new data add to evidence that coronavirus cases have fallen from a peak on July 17 in daily reported figures for this wave, even after Prime Minister Boris Johnson lifted COVID restrictions in England. read more

Daily cases in Britain hit 54,674 two days before the restrictions ended but have fallen since. The ONS data, which provide a fuller picture of the pandemic than the daily testing totals, show a similar downward trend.

"As the ONS survey is intended to be a random and therefore unbiased sample of the population, it is a more robust source of information than the case data," said Rowland Kao, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh.

"So this decline in numbers - with appropriate statistical uncertainty - is reassuring."

Daily case totals rose steeply in the run-up to the end of legal coronavirus restrictions in England on July 19, and health minister Sajid Javid said cases could hit 100,000 a day after the unlocking.

Instead, daily new cases started to fall. Epidemiologists have said the end of the Euro 2020 soccer championship and school summer holidays might have helped reduce the spread of the virus, as well as people's cautious behaviour.

Reporting by Alistair Smout, Editing by Paul Sandle and Giles Elgood

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