New research suggests recent lockdowns in Britain have reduced the spread of COVID-19 during the last month. File Photo by Will Oliver/EPA-EFE
Nov. 30 (UPI) -- Recent lockdown restrictions imposed in England to reduce the spread of COVID-19 appear to be working, with a 30% drop in new infections over the past month, according to research released Monday by Imperial College London.
Since the implementation of new protocols -- including business closures and limits on public gatherings -- based on local infection rates earlier in November, the country has seen its new coronavirus reproduction, or R, number fall to 0.88, the data showed.
The R number measures how many people infected with the virus spread it to others, so lower figures suggest reduced transmission, the researchers said.
Although it is not among the official statistics used to track the epidemic, the R number for some parts of the United States may be more than twice as high, based on recent estimates.
The findings suggest England's epidemic is shrinking rather than growing.
"Our robust data offer encouraging signs for England's epidemic, where we're seeing a fall in infections at the national level and in particular across regions that were previously worst affected," researcher Paul Elliott said in a press release.
"As we approach a challenging time of year, it's even more vital that through our actions and behaviors we all play our part in helping to keep the virus at bay," said Elliott, who heads the REal-time Assessment of Community Transmission, or REACT 1, program at Imperial.
The REACT program is a series of studies designed to monitor how the virus is spreading across England by testing more than 150,000 randomly selected people each month over a two-week period.
Volunteers take nose and throat swabs at home, which are then analyzed in a laboratory by RT-PCR, the standard approach used globally to confirm COVID-19 infection.
Of 105,123 swabs analyzed for this latest round of testing, 821 were positive -- for an estimated prevalence of just under 1%, the data showed.
This marks a roughly 30% drop in the number of infections compared to the last round of REACT 1 testing, completed on Nov. 2, in which more than 1 in 80 people, or 1.3%, had the virus.
The number of people becoming infected was found to be halving every 37 days, with a corresponding R number of 0.88, meaning that each infected person passes the virus on to fewer than one other person on average, the data showed.
"This data illustrates the power of physical distancing with people outside of your household in preventing the spread of COVID-19," public health specialist Brandon Brown told UPI.
"We have the tools that work for prevention [but] a unified national strategy is important for avoiding mixed messaging between city, state and federal agencies," said Brown, an associate professor of social medicine population and public health at the University of California-Riverside who was not part of the REACT 1 study.