London still has the highest percentage of people testing positive for coronavirus of any region in England, according to latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Around 1.6 per cent of Londoners estimated to have been infected in the week to 6 February — equivalent to around 1 in 63 people.
It means an estimate of around 144,000 people tested positive for coronavirus in the capital last week, out of London’s 8.9m-strong population.
More than half of those infected were thought to have contracted the Kent strain of coronavirus, which is currently the dominant variant in the UK.
The figure is slightly higher than the national average, with around 1 in 80 people infected in England as a whole last week — down from 1 in 65 last week.
However, cases appear to be falling rapidly across all regions in England except the South East.
The number of people in England thought to have been ill with Covid fell to 695,400 last week, down from 846,900 in the week to 30 January, according the latest ONS infection survey.
Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London, a key architect of England’s first national lockdown, has said that coronavirus infection rates are falling faster than he had anticipated.
“The lockdown has really driven down cases quite fast. They’re basically halving about every 17 days at the moment or so, and that means in a month’s time — the Prime Minister bas talked about potentially reopening schools — we might have some bandwidth to do tha,” he told Politico’s Westminster podcast.
“And if we continue to see then a continued decline without large outbreaks, then perhaps starting to relax other aspects of society the following month.”
The east London borough of Newham is currently the most infected region in the capital, with an estimated 3.5 per cent of residents testing positive for coronavirus last week, according to ONS figures.
Meanwhile, the west London regions of Hounslow and Wandsworth appear to be the least affected regions in the capital, with 1.4 per cent of people testing positive last week.
It comes after surge testing was rolled out across four London this month in an attempt to “snuff out” new cases of emerging Covid variants.
Residents in Lambeth, Ealing, Harginey and Merton have received knocks on the door telling them to take tests for the South African Covid variant, which is thought to be partially resistant to available vaccines.
Health secretary Matt Hancock told a Downing Street press conference earlier this week the government was launching new measures “to spot and suppress new variants aggressively wherever they’re found”.
“We’re taking in those small number of areas where variants of concern have been found in the community including door-to-door communications, and enhanced testing and sequencing,” he added.
“It is imperative that our vaccination programme keeps pace with any changes to this virus.”
However, scientists warned this morning that social distancing measures will likely have to be kept in place until at least the autumn as ministers attempt to keep new Covid variants at bay.
“As long as there are variants, we are vulnerable. That’s why the continuing practicing of distancing, masks, isolating when you’re sick is imperative — that’s the shape of things to come,” said David Nabarro, special envoy on Covid-19 for the World Health Organization.
Professor John Edmunds, a member of the scientific advisory body Sage, said some curbs on daily life could be in force until the end of this year.
Edmunds added that it would be “touch and go” whether the country’s Covid R will rise above 1 if schools reopen on 8 March as planned. It is currently estimated to be anywhere between 0.7 to 1.