A vaccine expert has warned there could be “pockets” around England where there are “worrying” rates of COVID-19 transmission.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, told the Commons Science and Technology Committee that coronavirus infections could be disproportionately spread across the country.
She said on Wednesday: “One of the things we’ve found with this virus in general is it’s not equal across the country – we know last year we had pockets of transmission in certain parts of the country,”
Dr Ramsey added: “There is always the risk that if that pocket of transmission – whether it’s due to social factors, housing, behaviour, vaccination or lack of vaccination – they could potentially all coalesce and you could have potentially pockets where there was quite worrying rates of transmission, so I think the real importance is that we continue to monitor this on a very careful basis and we continue to look at the local level.”
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Dr Ramsey's warning comes after analysis from the Times showed around 38 million people in England were in regions that were practically "COVID-free".
The newspaper’s data showed seven in 10 people were in areas where up to two infections were registered last week (where recent data is available).
The report said government scientific advisers were confident the roadmap to easing lockdown was working after viewing the data.
Next week, the government will decide if the next stage of easing can go ahead on 17 May, which includes allowing people to meet indoors using the rule of six or two households directive.
But Dr Ramsey warned it would be “a mistake to just assume that everyone is the same, and every area is the same.”
She admitted uptake of the vaccine has been incredibly high in general but there were some pockets where it’s a little bit lower, like in London, which was “lagging behind”.
Dr Ramsay added: “I think we expect to see an increase in rates, the question is whether that increase in rates is translating into increases in the more worrying things like hospitalisations and deaths, and that’s what we haven’t seen, they are still continuing to go down at very sharp rates, very sharp decline because the vaccine is adding that protection to the population.”
Newly released figures suggest that people in the North West are the most likely in England to test positive for COVID antibodies.
Following months of the coronavirus vaccine being rolled out across the country, more than half of adults in the UK are now likely to have COVID-19 antibodies, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The latest estimates are based on a sample of blood test results for the week ending 11 April.
The figures show that the likelihood of antibody positivity in the North West is 69.6%, while the lowest figure in England is 64.4% in the North East.
Across the four nations of the UK, the antibody estimates range from 57.8% of adults in Scotland to 68.3% in England, with 61% for Wales and 62.5% for Northern Ireland.
The figures are a stark difference from the middle of December, when the antibody estimates for all four regions were less than 20%.
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