COVID-19 prevalence in England no longer falling, UK's ONS says

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People walk past the window display of a travel agent in London

LONDON (Reuters) - The prevalence of COVID-19 infections in England is no longer falling and has levelled off at an estimated 1 in 340 people, Britain's Office for National Statistics (ONS) said on Friday, a possible side-effect of England's emergence from full lockdown.

"In England, the percentage of people testing positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19) is likely to have levelled off in the week ending 20 March 2021," the ONS said. The estimate of prevalence at 1 in 340 people was unchanged on the previous week.

It is the first time prevalence has not fallen in the closely watched estimate of community infections since late January. England's third national lockdown was introduced on January 5.

Schools reopened on March 8, and England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said on Tuesday that a recent decline in infections during England's latest lockdown was slowing, but said that was to be expected.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out a roadmap out of lockdown designed to give four weeks to collect data on each change to the rules and another one week of notice to confirm the next step can proceed.

Minor changes to allow six people to meet up outside, including in gardens, are due to come in to effect on Monday.

An announcement on whether step two of re-opening can proceed, which would see the re-opening of non-essential retail and outdoor-only hospitality, is expected to be made in the week beginning April 5, with restrictions lifted no earlier than April 12.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Sarah Young)