Infections could be rising in parts of England and Scotland as fall in cases slows down – while situation in Europe is ‘deteriorating’

The fall in coronavirus infections could be slowing across parts of the UK, new data shows, as Europe braces for a third wave with Germany warning of an exponential rise in cases and France facing a fresh lockdown.
The latest Covid infection survey by the Office for National Statistics revealed that although cases overall were falling, the drop is not universal with the data up to the week ending 13 March representing a mixed picture.
It comes as the latest estimates for the R number the transmission rate of the virus remained below 1 overall, meaning the epidemic within the UK is shrinking daily. However the encouraging results could be hiding some localised growth in infections.
In Germany, Lars Schaade, the deputy head of the public health body, the Robert Koch Institute, said infection rates were now clearly exponential. Officials have warned that the country could face a return to stricter lockdown measures by Easter.
Jens Spahn, the German health minister, acknowledged Europe does not have enough vaccine supplies to stop a third wave.
The French government has announced new restrictions amid an increasingly alarming situation as hospitals struggle with a rise in Covid patients including the biggest one-day jump in cases since November. Jean Castex, the prime minister, said the situation was deteriorating there.
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Elsewhere, Greece said some lockdown restrictions would be lifted next week as part of a plan to gradually reopen the economy despite hospitals remaining under severe pressure.
A Reuters tally found coronavirus-related deaths across the region surpassed one million on Friday.
Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, said several European countries were seeing an increasing number of cases, driven by the variant first discovered in Kent.
Perhaps more concern for the UK though is that some countries are notably seeing a significant fraction, 5-10 per cent of cases, of the South African variant, the senior scientific adviser told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
When infection levels go up in France, 30,000 cases a day, that implies there’s at least 1,500-2,000 cases a day of the South African variant.
That is the variant we really do want to keep out of the UK.
The latest ONS figures showed that as of Friday, a further 101 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the UK total to 126,026.
Separate figures for deaths where Covid-19 has been mentioned on the death certificate, together with additional data on deaths that have occurred in recent days, show there have now been 148,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK.
More than 4,800 people tested positive for the virus on Friday as NHS England said more than half the population had now had at least one vaccine dose.
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During the two weeks to 13 March, the percentage of children aged over 11 testing positive in England decreased. But the ONS said the rate of decline has slowed in all age groups except for those aged between 25 to 34 and 50 to 69-year-olds.
It is too early yet to know whether children returning to school have led to a rise in infections although Englands chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, has warned that re-opening schools may lead to a rise in infections.
Overall, 160,200 people were estimated to have the virus by the ONS, equivalent to one in every 340 people in England.
The percentage of people testing positive has decreased in the West Midlands, East of England, South West and London during the latest week but the ONS said across all other regions the trend was uncertain.
It highlighted the East Midlands, where there may be early signs of an increase in infections.
Infections are on the rise in Scotland where the ONS estimated 19,300 people had Covid-19 in the week to 13 March, around one in 275 people.
In Wales, cases fell but the rate of decrease has slowed down. Around 7,000 people in Wales had Covid, equating to around one in 430 people.
In Northern Ireland, 5,800 people had the virus with the rate of positive tests said to be levelling off. This would equal around one in 315 people being infected.
New estimates of the R-rate for the UK shows it is between 0.6 to 0.9, with the number of new infections thought to be shrinking by between 3 and 6 per cent every day.
The estimates were based on data up to 15 March.
Sarah Crofts, senior statistician for the Covid-19 infection survey, said: There is a mixed picture across the UK with infections in England and Wales continuing to fall, levelling in Northern Ireland and showing early signs of an increase in Scotland.
The trend in some English regions is now uncertain, with the West Midlands, East of England, the South West and London showing clear declines and there are early signs of a possible increase in the East Midlands.
Positive infections among secondary aged children have decreased and appear to be levelling for primary aged children. Our figures this week are from the first week since schools returned in England and therefore it is too early to say whether this has influenced infection rates.
We will continue to closely monitor the infection rates in all age groups.
The weekly ONS infection survey is based on an analysis of 665,000 tests from across the UK over the last six weeks. It does not include patients in hospitals or care homes and aims to measure the infection level in the general community.