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Covid symptom-tracker app estimates UK cases have levelled off at 9,500 a day and are not shrinking

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Britain’s coronavirus outbreak is no longer shrinking and has levelled off at 9,500 cases a day, according to estimates by a symptom-tracking app.

The ZOE Covid Symptom Study predicted there were 9,545 new symptomatic daily infections in the week to February 21, up three per cent on the previous week when it said there were 9,242 cases. 

But infections continued to fall among the over-60s, who are most likely to be hospitalised and die from the disease. They also estimated the R rate had gone up slightly, suggesting the second wave has plateaued.

Professor Tim Spector, who is behind the app, said the rise was ‘not a reason to panic’ because the ‘key metrics’ of hospitalisations and Covid deaths were still falling. He added No10 remained on track to lift restrictions ‘sooner rather than later’ and that the UK is now in a similar position to last May. 

The figures are based on reports from more than a million Britons on whether they are feeling unwell, and if they have tested positive for the virus. The system can only pick up symptomatic cases, and misses those where someone gets infected but does not suffer any warning signs – estimated to be at least a third of all cases.

The scientists behind the app updated their formula for calculating the estimated number of daily infections this week, to take into account the after-effects of vaccination. Some jabs can trigger Covid-like symptoms including fever and headaches, which can skew the results of estimated infections.

It comes after two separate reports from Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace yesterday showed Britain’s Covid outbreak has shrunk to levels not seen since mid-September.

The number of positive tests recorded last week was lower than at any point since the start of the second wave and cases came down in all age groups and regions over recent weeks.

And the picture was positive over almost the entire country, with infection counts falling in 134 out of 149 local authorities – or 89 per cent – although there were 15 areas that recorded growing outbreaks up to February 21.

The UK’s chief medical officers yesterday downgraded the country’s Covid threat level from Level 5 – a ‘material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed’ – to Level 4, which says a ‘Covid epidemic is in general circulation; transmission is high or rising exponentially’.

Positive test rates fell in 147 out of 149 areas in England in the week to February 14, rising only in North East Lincolnshire and Tameside
In the week to February 21, 15 out of 149 areas saw their positive coronavirus test rate increase

Public Health England data show that nine out of 10 areas had shrinking outbreaks up to Sunday, February 21, but some saw significant growth, with cases almost doubling in Rutland from the previous week (ending February 14)

Public Health England data show that September 20 (week 38) was the last time that cases were lower in every region and every age group than they are now

Public Health England data show that September 20 (week 38) was the last time that cases were lower in every region and every age group than they are now

Just 84,310 people tested positive for the coronavirus across the country during the week ending February 17, NHS Test and Trace data revealed yesterday. This is down 44 per cent in a fortnight and is the lowest number since week to September 30

Just 84,310 people tested positive for the coronavirus across the country during the week ending February 17, NHS Test and Trace data revealed yesterday. This is down 44 per cent in a fortnight and is the lowest number since week to September 30

The ZOE Covid symptom study also estimated the R rate – which measures the spread of the virus – for the UK and each of the devolved administrations. But official estimates of the level by the Government’s top scientists will be published this afternoon.

They said it may now be at the crucial level of one in the UK (0.9 to 1.0), suggesting cases are no longer falling. In Wales it may be 0.9, they said, while in England it could be 1.0 and in Scotland 1.1. 

Professor Spector, from King’s College London, said: ‘The data over the last few weeks shows that the daily new cases have started to plateau at just under 10,000 cases but this isn’t reason to panic. 

‘The key metric isn’t just the total number of cases, which is mainly among people of working age. We need to focus on the pressure on the NHS and the number of admissions and deaths, which are both still falling rapidly. 

‘We are in a similar situation to late May last year, just before restrictions were lifted but the difference this time is, while the variants may be more infectious, we have a vaccine that works and the older age groups are largely protected. 

‘Having some residual infections in the population is inevitable for a while and although we want to push it lower, it shouldn’t be a major cause for concern. 

‘With decisions now being made on data rather than dates, it feels like we on track to lift restrictions sooner rather than later.’

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