London is currently recording just 24 new cases of coronavirus a day and could be virus-free within a fortnight, new modelling suggests.
Research by Public Health England and Cambridge University suggests that the capital’s “R” reproduction rate has fallen to 0.4, down from around 2.8 before the lockdown, The Sun reports.
That means that for every ten people who catch the virus, they pass it on to just four others between them.
The fall means that the number of new cases being recorded in London is now halving every 3.5 days, the Telegraph reported.
But leading experts today questioned the accuracy of the data, warning it might not reflect the true picture.
One epidemiologist said an R rate of 0.4 in the capital was “extremely unlikely” and another expert admitted he expects the number of new daily cases in London to be higher than 24.
At the peak of the crisis, the number of people being infected in the capital each day stood at 213,000, and that figure fell to around 10,000 after the lockdown was imposed.
But rates around the country vary greatly meaning there is still considerable risk of infection for Brits.
Coronavirus fatalities in the UK have risen to 33,614 after 428 more deaths were recorded yesterday.
A total of 233,151 people have now tested positive for COVID-19 across Britain – up 3,446 cases from Wednesday.
London has always been weeks ahead of the rest of the country – in terms of the bug’s spread.
The capital recorded the first explosion of cases and was the early epicentre of the UK’s outbreak, but is now doing better than the country as a whole, which currently has an R value of 0.75.
The North East and Yorkshire, taken together, have the highest rate of any region, with 0.8, and are seeing around 4,320 infections a day.
Second is the North West, which is seeing 2,380 infections a day, while all other regions are seeing fewer than 1,500.
Asked if 24 new cases a day in the capital is robust, Dr Sebastian Funk told BBC Radio 4’s Today program: “Well, there is some variation around this and there is some uncertainty in this, but what we have observed in London is that case numbers and death numbers have come down faster than in other parts of the country – albeit from a considerably higher level.
“So I think it … well, I would say it is a little bit higher than that, but it is probably lower than the rest of the country.”
Asked whether the R rate should be looked at regionally, Professor Funk said: “I absolutely do think so, yes”.
Pushed on whether the government should react to different R rates regionally in policy terms too, he added: “I think that is something that we will probably have to do going forward”.
A new strategy announced by the government on Sunday included a warning system for local outbreaks that could allow it to tailor the severity of lockdown measures in each region.
Conservative MP Bim Afolami said the new figures could strengthen the case for further easing of the lockdown in London.
“If you look at other countries, they’ve often adopted regional approaches,” he told the Telegraph.
“If it makes sense from a health perspective, we need to consider it.”
Former environment secretary Theresa Villiers added: “These figures are good news.
“They show lockdown measures have been working and I think they make the case for further easing of the lockdown in London.
“It’s vital that we do find ways to let the economy recover – and London is the powerhouse of the economy.”
But experts warned it’s still “too early” to draw any concrete conclusions from the Cambridge University findings.
Professor Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading, told MailOnline: “The level is below one as a result of the lockdown, put simply if you don’t bump into anyone, you cannot pass on the virus, even if you have it.
“The key point limiting opening up is that the virus has not changed, it’s not weaker or less infectious so we are, in a way, back at a similar point to the beginning of the epidemic.
“What’s changed is that everyone is now aware of the situation and most people treat it seriously, so as long as that remains the case the numbers could now be kept under control.”
Professor Jones said scientists cannot predict with certainty how exactly how the R rate will develop as lockdown is eased.
Around one in three Brits – 17.3 million people – may already have been infected with coronavirus, experts say.
Researchers from the University of Manchester believe 29 per cent of the UK population had had the disease by April 19.
The Office for National Statistics claims most victims of the COVID-19 crisis have been in the over-65s category, accounting for 30,978 fatalities.
Around 12 per cent of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in those who are under the age of 65, accounting for 4,066 deaths.
When it comes to people in the under-65 category, those who are still of a working age, the figures revealed that there have been 8.4 deaths per 100,000 people.
This is in contrast to the over-65 group where there have been 286 deaths per 100,000.
Meanwhile the first coronavirus antibody test that could help ease lockdown in the UK has been given the go-ahead by Public Health England.
No10 is now keen to get its hands on “as many of these as possible” after the potentially game-changing kit was developed by Swiss healthcare company Roche.
Yesterday a top official at the World Health Organisation warned that countries could face a second wave of the virus later in the year if they lift lockdowns too early.
Speaking to the Telegraph, Dr Hans Kluge, the body’s director for the European region, said: “I’m very concerned about a double wave in the fall.
“People think lockdown is finished. Nothing has changed.
“The full disease control package has to be in place. That’s the key message.”
He added that countries would have to proceed “gradually and carefully” until a vaccine had been developed.
This story originally appeared on The Sun and has been republished with permission.