LONDON (Reuters) – The prevalence of COVID-19 infections in England dropped steeply in March, a closely watched survey said on Thursday, but in a note of caution it also showed that the drop in infections had slowed.
The REACT study, run by Imperial College London, found that infections fell by approximately 60% from the last study in February, with only 1 in 500 people infected.
However, the study found that the speed of decline started to plateau in mid-March. Schools reopened on March 8, and COVID-19 restrictions will be loosened further next week, with the reopening of all shops and outdoor hospitality venues.
“We have seen a gratifying fall in infections since our last survey in February… This is hugely encouraging and shows we’re headed in the right direction,” Paul Elliott, director of the REACT programme, said.
“However, in our most recent data there has been a flattening off in the infection rate with an R (reproduction) number now around one. This shows that we need to continue to approach the situation with caution and keep sticking to the rules.”
Overall, national prevalence in England dropped from 0.49% in February to 0.20% in March.
The REACT study is one of the biggest COVID-19 surveys of its kind in England, with over 140,000 volunteers tested in England between March 11 and March 30 in the latest round.
The study found that the correlation between infections and deaths was diverging, possibly an effect of Britain’s COVID-19 vaccination programme, which has seen over 31 million people receive a first COVID-19 vaccine dose.
“These findings are promising and illustrate the significant impact that lockdown, combined with our phenomenal vaccination programme, is having on the prevalence of this dreadful virus,” health minister Matt Hancock said.
Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Jonathan Oatis