The growth in cases of coronavirus may be slowing down, the largest study of the infection in England suggests.
A team at Imperial College London analysed samples from 84,000 people chosen at random from across the country.
They said the R number, the virus’s reproduction number, appears to have fallen since measures including the “rule of six” were introduced.
However, they warn cases are high, with one in every 200 people infected.
The React study is highly influential, both due to its size and because it gives an up-to-date picture of how the virus is spreading. The last samples used in the analysis were collected as recently as Saturday.
It was the previous React report that found infections were doubling every seven to eight days in late August and early September.
This, in turn, led to warnings that there could be 50,000 cases a day by mid-October if that pattern continued.
Then the research group estimated the R number – the number of people each infected person is passing the virus onto, on average – was 1.7.
The latest analysis, of swab samples collected between 19 and 26 September, suggests the R number has fallen to around 1.1 – although the precise figure is uncertain.
The researchers said it is the first hint that measures such as the “rule of six”, and heightened public concern about coronavirus, “may be having an impact on transmission”.
Prof Paul Elliott from Imperial College London told me: “This is a very critical period, we know in an exponential phase you very quickly get to a very large number of cases.
“There does appear to be a downturn in the rate of increase, the R number appears to have come down.
“Clearly nobody wants a full lockdown, but if we pay attention to public health messages on social distance, hand washing, face covering and testing and isolating, then I think we can turn the virus down.”