Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
27 July 2021

Why are UK Covid-19 cases falling?

Possible explanations for the trend include the end of Euro 2020, higher self-isolation rates and greater immunity.

By Michael Goodier

The number of new UK Covid-19 cases reported daily has fallen for six days in a row – suggesting that the third wave of the pandemic may have peaked.

However, it is still too early to see the effects of the 19 July unlocking in the figures. A Downing Street spokesman said: “We should still expect to see a rise in case numbers given the move to Step Four last week. The Prime Minister thinks we’re not out of the woods yet.” 

 

But what is behind the fall in cases? It is not likely to be a decline in the number of tests in England: the test positivity rate has remained constant and even shown signs of falling, and the drop in cases is too large to be attributable to testing. 

One factor is likely to be the school holidays: the figures show cases are dropping faster among younger people, in every region of England (see graph).

 

Another possibility is that the recent decline simply marks the end of a temporary rise in cases during Euro 2020, with people catching the virus at pubs and gatherings while watching England play. There are signs in the data that infections rose steeply among younger males following England games and that this effect now seems to have subsided. A similar effect was seen in Scottish cases shortly after the team’s tournament exit.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Increasing numbers of people self isolating could also be helping. In the latest week of figures (to 14 July), 607,486 alerts were sent by the NHS app – the highest since the start of the pandemic. Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor at the School of Medicine, University of Leeds, said: “The ongoing coverage of the so-called ‘pingdemic’, unhelpful as it has been, actually reflects the fact that, in response to a large surge of infections, a great many people have been asked to self-isolate recently and this could have a direct impact upon transmission.”

Content from our partners
The green transition can unlock 40,000 new businesses and £175bn
Building the business case for growth
“On supporting farmers, McDonald’s sets a high standard”

A growing number of people may also now have some related immunity to Covid-19, either through vaccination or infection. According to the latest ONS Infection Survey, 92 per cent of adults would have tested positive for antibodies against coronavirus at the end of June. Recent good weather could also have played a part, with increasing outdoor mixing as opposed to more transmission-friendly indoor gatherings.

The fall in cases is welcome, whatever is behind it. A corresponding drop in hospitalisations and deaths is likely to follow. However, it is still unclear whether this is a long-term trend, especially given the recent relaxation in restrictions.

Oxford University professor James Naismith, the director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, said: “For me the next milestone will be the ONS data release on Friday 21 August – we will know for sure the effect of the end of the lockdown. It is important to understand that the daily test numbers will only begin to see the effect of the end of lockdown towards the end of this week. Many scientists, myself included, expect the end of lockdown to see a rise in cases. However, we have been wrong before and we will be wrong in the future. Only charlatans claim omniscience. This is a new disease and we are learning more every day.”

Topics in this article :