COVID-19: Second lockdown may have caused rise in coronavirus infections, scientists say | UK News

The second lockdown in England may have caused a rise in coronavirus infections, as people rushed out to see each other ahead of the tough restrictions, scientists have suggested.

An influential REACT study by researchers at Imperial College London found coronavirus infections spiked at the beginning of November, having plateaued and even fallen in the weeks before.

The scientists were not able to say for sure if the increase had been caused by people heading out in expectation of a lockdown.

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As cases take several days to develop, the spike could only have been caused by infections in the very last days of October.

But the leak which broke the news of the lockdown landed on 30 October, a Friday night, forcing Downing Street to bring forward its announcement of a lockdown to 31 October, a Saturday.

“There was a lot of speculation on Friday,” said Professor Paul Elliot of Imperial College London, who chairs the REACT study. “It’s very tight timing, but something happened.”

The new lockdown came into force on 5 November and is due to end on 2 December.

REACT, which tests more than 100,000 randomly-selected people, is one of the most authoritative estimates of the state of the outbreak in England.

The latest release, which covers the period between 16 October and 2 November, maps out the events leading up to lockdown.

It shows how events spun out of control in mid to late October, as the number of people infected accelerated rapidly, doubling as fast as every nine days, with cases rising in every age group and region of England.

By the end of October, the researchers estimate, 100,000 new people were being infected every day.

During the final days of October, the growth of the outbreak began to slow.

Cases still remained high, justifying stringent responses. But the virus was no longer increasing with the same speed.

In some regions of the country – Yorkshire and Humberside, for instance – prevalence fell substantially.

In the south of England fast growth levelled off, although in other areas it continued to rise.

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The introduction of the government’s tier system could have played a role, the researchers said, but the fall was mostly uniform across the country.

Then, just when it seemed to be heading in the right direction, the outbreak in England jumped again, right before the start of lockdown.

Professor Elliot said he wasn’t sure if researchers would ever know why the outbreak changed exactly when it did.

The same applies to the unexpected spike that took place at the beginning of October.

We might never know why it happened – or indeed if it was anything more than an oddity caused by an unnoticed quirk in the collection of the data. We only have informed speculation and the telling coincidence of events.

Yesterday, we got the news that Lee Cain, the prime minister’s director of communications, was resigning, reportedly after tensions in Downing Street because of that lockdown leak.

At the time it felt like a hugely consequential moment – as the weeks pass, it has only got more significant.

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