The number of people testing positive for Covid in the North East isn't falling as quickly as in other regions

The findings from Imperial College London’s React study show Covid-19 infections in England fell from January into February. Credit: PA

The number of people in the North East testing positive for coronavirus isn't falling as quickly as in other parts of the country, according to new figures.

Infections in the region are down by around a third, but the overall rate in England has dropped by two thirds.

The North East and North West currently have the highest numbers of infected people in the country.

Researchers at Imperial College London took more than 85,000 swab tests from people all over the country between February 4 and 13.

The tests showed that Covid-19 infections remained high but had dropped to just one in 200 people testing positive.

The 'React' study also found that the number of COVID-19 infections is falling more dramatically in some areas than in others.

In London, infections are down 80 per cent since the start of the year. 

The North East's R rate - that's the average number of people somebody with the virus will go on to infect - is now around one.

Everywhere else in the country, the R rate has fallen below one. 

Professor Eugene Milne, Director of Public Health for Newcastle, said: ''What we're seeing across the North East at the moment is a fall in the number of cases and we're also seeing a fall in the number of tests that are proving positive, both of those are signs that things are going in the right direction....

What's worth bearing in mind is that as that more infective variant of covid spreads it has slowed down the rates in the North East, so in a sense London and the South East were ahead of us in terms of the spread of that particular variant, which has now had an effect on the rates up here and will continue to do so because it's a challenge to us to keep that more infective variant under control.

What the research does show is that lockdown measures are driving down coronavirus infection levels, but the overall rate remains high.

Researchers warn that the effects of easing social distancing need to be closely monitored in order to avoid a resurgence in infections and renewed pressure on health services

Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London, said:

This is good news. This is a better decline than many people would have hoped for, certainly when we were thinking about this at the end of December.

Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London

Steven added: "This is all very encouraging and it's definitely good news.

"The note of caution is that clearly there's still a lot of pressure on hospitals, both in terms of number of new admissions, and in the total number of people in hospitals.

"So the trend is great, but because prevalence is high, there essentially isn't a lot of headroom - there isn't a lot of leeway.

"Because if for any reason, we do return to growth then we're immediately at levels of hospital pressure the same as in the peak of the first one."

Commenting on what the findings might mean for the easing of lockdown restrictions, Professor Paul Elliott, director of the programme at Imperial College London, said it is a "very delicate balance".

We could take a lot of encouragement from the decline that we're seeing, but I would say we're not out of the woods yet because the prevalence is still one in 200, and that obviously masks some differences in different areas and between different groups of people.

Professor Paul Elliott, director of the programme at Imperial College London

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "These findings show encouraging signs infections are now heading in the right direction across the country, but we must not drop our guard.

"Cases and hospital admissions remain high - over 20,000 Covid-19 patients are in hospital -  so it is vital we all remain vigilant and follow the rules as our vaccination rollout continues at pace.

"I urge everyone to continue to stay at home - remember hands, face, space - and get your jab when you receive your invite.''

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