London, United Kingdom – A second lockdown in England reduced COVID-19 infections by 30 percent, according to the results of a new large-scale study.
The findings from Imperial College London and Ipsos MORI’s React-1 study, published on Monday, suggest that 96 people per 10,000 contracted the novel coronavirus between November 13-24. The second lockdown, soon to be lifted, started on November 5.
More than 100,000 people were randomly tested for COVID-19 as part of the study, whether or not they had symptoms. A previous iteration of the study carried out between October 16 and November 2 indicated a rate of 130 infections per 10,000 people.
The reproductive “R” rate of the virus was estimated at 0.88 according to the latest results, marking it out below the critical threshold of 1, at which point its spread accelerates and can threaten an exponential growth of cases.
Commenting on the study’s findings, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said gains had been made, but warned, the “prevalence of the disease remains high”.
“The findings show cases were rising as the country entered lockdown but this was followed by a decrease as national measures successfully lowered infection rates across the country,” DHSC added in a statement shared with Al Jazeera.
To date, more than 1.6 million cases of the novel coronavirus have been recorded throughout the UK since the pandemic erupted and at least 58,000 people have died, marking Europe’s worst official death toll.
Regionalised restrictions reintroduced
The nationwide lockdown is due to end on Wednesday, after which restrictions will be enforced on a regional basis in England; areas will be considered by alert levels – medium, high or very high.
The new measures will see 99 percent of the population – some 55 million people, placed under the two toughest sets of rules, meaning they are banned from mixing with other households indoors and face a range of other strict curbs on day-to-day life.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has championed the three-tier system, but the government’s plan could meet resistance in parliament this week, with MPs with the ruling Conservative Party having criticised the scheme’s implications for Britons’ personal freedoms.
Up to 70 Conservative MPs are reportedly considering rebelling during a vote on the measures on Tuesday, after demanding to see the evidence officials have based the regional restrictions on.
Johnson says he will publish the health, economic and social data behind the new system in a bid to avert the parliamentary rebellion, but faces the prospect of having to rely on opposition support to pass the new rules.
The main opposition Labour Party, led by Sir Keir Starmer, is yet to state whether it will back the government’s plan.
Jonathan Portes, a professor of economics and public policy at King’s College, London, said the revised tiered system being proposed was “essentially a national approach with some variation”.
“I think it was clear that the approach we had before the second set of nationwide restrictions, with tiers one, two and three … with different places with different rules was completely confusing and non-credible to the general population,” he told Al Jazeera.
“That clearly was a mistake and the government has recognised it was a mistake,” he said, adding the amended tier rules were “reasonably clear” by comparison.
Mass testing of students starts
The political rumblings took place weeks before a planned easing of measures over the Christmas period.
The rules will be relaxed during a five-day window from December 23-27 during which up to three households will be able to form a single “Christmas bubble” and meet up at home, in places of worship and in outdoor spaces open to the public.
Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have also agreed to apply the exemption, which will be accompanied by a lifting of travel restrictions so people can visit family and friends.
The government has rolled out mass testing for students as it seeks to safely oversee their return home for the Christmas break.
Temporary testing centres have been opened at universities throughout England, with students asked to take two tests, three days apart, as part of efforts to prevent COVID-19 spreading outwards from campuses across the country this month.
Students who receive a negative result on their second test will be expected to leave for home during a so-called “travel window”, recently carved out by officials and set to run from December 3-9.
Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull, reporting from De Montfort University in Leicester, said mass testing of students relied on rapid testing technology that is not always effective.
“The government itself admits that the tests that it is giving out are not always reliable, so the reality is that despite these efforts, quite a lot of people are going to be given a clean bill of health and sent home when in fact they are still infectious,” he said. “This all could backfire on the government yet.”