Monday 18 January 2021 3:34 pm

London ‘past the peak’ of coronavirus as infections fall

Coronavirus infections appear “to have peaked in London”, a leading scientist has said, as the number of new cases has seen a dramatic drop across the capital.

Dr Rupert Pearse, from the Intensive Care Society, told the BBC: “[Rates vary] a lot around the country and it varies a lot between hospitals, and that’s quite important to realise.”

“It looks as though infections have peaked in London… but are still on the rise in the north-west of England and around Yorkshire, so there is still cause to be concerned,” he added. 

It comes as the latest official figures showed new coronavirus cases are falling in every London borough for the first time in months.

Barking and Dagenham, which has been one of the worst-affected areas during the pandemic, saw cases fall 27 per cent over the past seven days, after recording 945 fewer infections than the previous week.

Newham, which remains the London borough with the highest infection rate, saw cases fall almost a quarter.

Just three out of 32 London boroughs currently have an infection rate higher than the 1,000 cases per 100,000 people mark, down from 17 last week. 

The figures mean London currently has the lowest rate of infection in the UK, after the capital’s R rate on Friday dropped to a best estimate of 0.9 to 1.2 — down from a range of 1.1 to 1.4 last week.

The average R rate for the whole of the UK currently stands at 1.2 to 1.3, meaning Covid could be growing between two and five per cent each day elsewhere in the country. 

However, the lag time between case rates and severe illness from Covid continues to take its toll on London’s hospitals, which has seen record numbers of patients on ventilators in recent days.

The number of Covid patients in London’s hospitals is almost 50 per cent higher than in the peak of the first wave, after hiking a further nine per cent in the past week. 

Meanwhile, the number of patients on ventilators in the capital jumped 18 per cent last week and continues to break NHS records. 

Danny Mortimer, head of the NHS Confederation, warned that theatre staff are being redeployed from surgery to help deal with the current surge in Covid-19 patients. 

In a stiff warning to the capital, he said: “I think, this next week, we will be at the limit of what we probably have the physical space and the people to safely do.”

Professor Stephen Powis, medical director for NHS England, added: “There are signs in London that the growth in infection rates are slowing, but it will take several weeks before that starts to have an effect on reducing people in hospital. So it’s really going to be tough over the next couple of weeks.”