After almost a week of falling case numbers, there are tentative signs that the spread of COVID-19 in the UK is starting to slow.
Reported cases, which include tests from a number of days previously, point to a decline in infections. But numbers based on tests conducted in the previous 24 hours do not show as clear a picture.
So, what does the data tell us about the state of the pandemic in the UK?
The picture varies across nations. While Scotland saw case rates apparently peak in early July, other parts of the UK have only just begun to see infections fall over the past few days.
The chart below shows new cases based on the day someone tests positive and the data from 19 July is subject to change.
Colin Angus, senior research fellow at the University of Sheffield, says that part of this divergence could be explained in part by Scotland’s early defeat in the Euros.
He said: “In Scotland this effect seems to have fizzled out after they were knocked out of the tournament in the group stages, while for England we are still seeing the after effects of it in the data now.”
The earlier start to the summer holidays could also explain the lag between case rates in Scotland and the rest of the UK.
But even in Scotland the data is unclear. A randomised community survey by the ONS estimates that one in every 80 Scots had COVID-19 in the week ending 17 July compared with one in 90 the week before.
Dr Simon Clarke, an associate professor at the University of Reading, said: “It’s too early to read too much into the ordinary test data – we’ve seen ups and downs before and it’s longer-term trends that matter.”
Why could case rates be falling?
One reason that cases could be falling is the start of school holidays in England, as children are often asymptomatic and are not required to get daily tests outside of term time.
But data shows only a moderate drop off in lateral flow tests in recent weeks. Meanwhile, PCR tests, which account for the vast majority of the system, continue to increase.
Another factor that could be driving infection rates is the number of people in self-isolation, which increased to more than 600,000 in the week ending 14 July.
Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor in the School of Medicine, University of Leeds, said: “The ongoing coverage of the so-called ‘pingdemic’, unhelpful as it has been, actually reflect the fact that, in response to a large surge of infections, a great many people have been asked to self-isolate recently and this could have a direct impact upon transmission.”
Is the regional picture any clearer?
In England, case rates appear to be falling across most regions among 10 to 29-year-olds, but the trend is most pronounced across all age groups in the North East and North West.
Despite the rampant spread of COVID-19 in these regions, case rates among the elderly remained low, raising the question of whether vaccines have suppressed infection in older populations.
At the peak for the North West in January, there were more than 950 cases per 100,000 over-90s, compared with just 102 in the latest wave.
But University of Sheffield’s Colin Angus says that he is not convinced that the outbreaks have fizzled out because the virus has run out of susceptible people to infect.
He said: “If you look at Bolton and Blackburn, the original hotspots in the Delta wave, you can see that cases didn’t really fall back that far and the outbreak has continued to rumble along there in the past month or so, seemingly under the radar.”
Whatever the trends, experts warn that any decline in cases could be short-lived.
The return of schools combined with less outdoor socialising in the autumn is likely to lead to a surge in infections. In addition, it is still too early to gauge what impact lifting England’s remaining restrictions on 19 July will have on case numbers.
Dr Clarke said: “As things stand, we really don’t have any data for the effect of what’s happened on 19 July. It should put upward pressure on infection numbers, as should any measure which allows people to mix more.”
The Data and Forensics team is a multi-skilled unit dedicated to providing transparent journalism from Sky News. We gather, analyse and visualise data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite images, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling we aim to better explain the world while also showing how our journalism is done.
Prince William calls for improved online safety after coroner’s ruling in Molly Russell death
Prince William has called for improved online safety for children after a coroner ruled social media contributed to the death of 14-year-old Molly Russell.
The Prince of Wales said: “No parent should ever have to endure what Ian Russell and his family have been through. They have been so incredibly brave. Online safety for our children and young people needs to be a prerequisite, not an afterthought.”
The schoolgirl from Harrow, northwest London, was found dead in her bedroom after viewing content related to suicide, depression and anxiety online.
Andrew Walker, the coroner, said he did not “think it would be safe” to give suicide as her cause of death, instead opting for self-harm.
Giving his findings on Friday, he said: “Molly was at a transition period in her young life which made certain elements of communication difficult.”
She was “exposed to material that may have influenced her in a negative way and, in addition, what had started as a depression had become a more serious depressive illness”, he told North London Coroners Court.
Man, 40, arrested in connection with murder of Olivia Pratt-Korbel
Detectives have made another arrest in connection with the murder of nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel in Liverpool.
The 40-year-old man from Dovecot was arrested on suspicion of assisting an offender on Friday.
It comes a day after a 34-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of her murder.
The arrest of the 40-year-old is the eleventh arrest in the investigation so far. He remains in custody at a police station for questioning.
The nine other people arrested during the investigation have all been released on bail and no one has been charged.
Olivia was shot dead in Dovecot on 22 August after a gunman entered her home at around 10pm while chasing his intended target.
The girl was struck in the chest after the gunman opened fire, while her mother was injured after being hit in the wrist by the same bullet.
Suspected remains linked to Moors murders being investigated by police
Suspected human remains have been found in the search for the final victim of the Moors murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.
The remains were found by an author who had been researching the murder of Keith Bennett, a 12-year-old boy who went missing in 1964 and whose body has never been found.
His findings were reported to Greater Manchester Police (GMP), which confirmed it was investigating.
Martin Bottomley, its review officer, said the author had “discovered what he believes are potential human remains in a remote location on the Moors”.
He met with officers on Thursday afternoon to take them to the site of interest, which was assessed that night.
“This morning, specialist officers have begun initial exploration activity,” Mr Bottomley said.
“It is far too early to be certain whether human remains have been discovered and this is expected to take some time.”
Keith’s surviving brother has been told about the investigation, the force said.
It could be a major breakthrough in a case that has been open since the early 1960s.
The final, undiscovered, victim
Brady and his accomplice Hindley sexually assaulted, tortured and murdered five children over two years in the 1960s.
She died in prison in 2002 and he in 2017.
The bodies of four of their victims were found buried on Saddleworth Moor in the south Pennines, but Keith’s remains have never been found.
He was taken on 16 June 1964 after going to visit his grandmother.
Brady and Hindley’s other victims were Pauline Reade, 16, who disappeared on her way to a disco on 12 July 1963; John Kilbride, 12, who was snatched in November the same year; Lesley Ann Downey, 10, who was lured away from a funfair on Boxing Day 1964; and Edward Evans, 17, who was axed to death in October 1965.
Brady confessed to Keith’s murder, but claimed he could not remember where he was buried.
He died at Ashworth High-Security Hospital in Merseyside, where he had been imprisoned since 1985.
48 years fighting for justice
Keith’s mother, Winnie Johnson, spent her life tirelessly fighting for justice and the right to give her son a Christian burial.
The former hospital worker and mother of nine died of bowel cancer in 2012 without knowing what had happened to him.
Mrs Johnson, who was a single mother, made a final plea to Brady in the weeks before her death to tell her where her son’s body was.
Speaking after her death, her friend Pam Ayres said: “She never gave up, I expect to her dying breath she wouldn’t have given up. Certainly, with every bit of her spirit and her will, she wouldn’t rescind that power to those people who took him.”
John Ainley, the lawyer for Keith’s brother, Alan, said he had spoken to him about the development.
“My client is keeping an open mind on the latest report having regard to earlier such reports that have raised expectations but not resulted in finding Keith’s body.
“Naturally, the family are hoping that Keith has been found after all these years and their tireless efforts to find closure.
“I understand Greater Manchester Police are investigating a site of interest but that it will take some weeks to establish whether there is a connection with Keith.”
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