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COVID-19: What Boris Johnson will have to consider as he decides when to ease lockdown

Written by on 16 February 2021

Over the next week the government and its advisers will be assessing a host of COVID-19 data to come up with a plan for easing lockdown restrictions.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will set out his roadmap out of lockdown on 22 February and is hoping to include the earliest possible dates for reopening different sectors of the economy.

But, that all depends on the data – and there is a lot to consider.

Sky News has taken a look at the numbers the government will be basing its decisions on.

Positivity rate

The percentage of people’s tests coming back positive has dropped dramatically since lockdown started and continues to decrease.

But, the rate is still not as low as during the summer.

R number

In the past few days, the number of people one person with COVID-19 is infecting has reduced to below one for the first time since July.

The current R number means that on average, for every 10 people infected they will infect between seven and nine other people.

There can be a significant amount of variability across a region, especially if there is a local outbreak, so the government remains cautious about the R number, but the experts on SAGE, the scientific advisory body, said the latest estimates “are reliable”.

Cases

The number of new cases each day has plummeted since the start of the current lockdown, when they peaked.

They continue to drop but remain much higher than during the summer when far fewer people were being tested, compared with now.

Deaths

The number of people dying within 28 days of testing positive for COVID-19 has greatly reduced since the peak of 19 January, two weeks after lockdown started.

But, deaths are still at the same level as Boxing Day and 26 April, and after a continuous reduction since 28 January, 8 February saw a rise.

Hospital admissions

The number of people being admitted to hospital has dropped dramatically since the week after the current lockdown started and continues to decrease.

But, like cases and deaths, daily hospital admissions are still much higher than the summer and are in line with mid-April and mid-November.

The prime minister said 60% of hospital COVID patients are under 70 so now is “no moment to relax…because the threat from this virus remains very real”.

Outcome of COVID-19 hospital patients

As more people are vaccinated the hope is that fewer will be admitted to hospital with COVID-19 and fewer will die from the disease.

But, the data suggests the death rate among COVID-19 hospital patients aged 70 and over remains high.

Vaccinations

The government hit its target to offer all of the top four priority groups – 15 million people – a vaccine by 15 February.

These included all older care home residents and staff, everyone over 70, all frontline NHS and care staff, and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.

All regions have vaccinated the majority of people aged 70 and above and people aged 65 and above are now being offered their first dose.

London is slightly lagging behind the rest of England in administering first doses to the top three age groups although it is ahead in the 65-69 age group.

Mr Johnson warned on Monday there was not yet enough data on how the vaccination can stop transmission of the virus.

The prime minister has warned that he and his advisers will have to be “very prudent” about their decision on easing the lockdown and said they want to see “progress that is cautious but irreversible”.

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