COVID infection rate in England hits lowest level since September as R number falls to between 0.6 and 0.8

The prevalence of coronavirus in England has fallen again - to the lowest level since late September, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

One in 270 people were infected with the coronavirus in the week ending 6 March, new ONS Infection Survey data shows, the equivalent of 200,600 people.

That figure is down from one in 220, or 248,100 people, estimated to have had COVID-19 in the previous week.

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It is also the lowest figure since the week to 24 September when the estimate stood at one in 470, or 116,600 people.

But the number of people infected in England is still high when compared with last summer. In the week to 25 August around one in 2,000 people had coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the UK's R number has dropped to between 0.6 and 0.8, official figures show.

A week ago, the R number - which represents the average number of people each COVID positive person goes on to infect - stood at between 0.7 and 0.9.

An R number between 0.6 and 0.8 means that, on average, every 10 people with coronavirus will infect between six and eight other people.

The latest growth rate is between -7% and -4%, which means the number of new infections is shrinking by between 4% and 7% every day.

However, there are also early signs of a "possible increase" in the percentage of people testing positive for the virus in the South East and South West of England, the ONS said.

Rates are estimated to have decreased in the North East, North West, East Midlands, East of England and London, while the trend is uncertain in Yorkshire and the Humber and the West Midlands, it added.

The West Midlands had the highest proportion of people of any region in England likely to test positive for coronavirus in the week to 6 March - around one in 190 people.

Yorkshire and the Humber had the next highest at around one in 230.

The other estimates are one in 305 for the East Midlands; one in 295 for northwest England; one in 320 for London; one in 280 for northeast England; one in 315 for eastern England; one in 265 for southeast England; and one in 290 for southwest England.

In Wales, the prevalence of COVID has dropped. Around one in 365 people are estimated to have had the virus between 28 February and 6 March, giving it the lowest level in the UK.

It is down from one in 285 for the week previous week, 21 to 27 February.

Mr Drakeford told a news conference in Cardiff that the test positivity rate was also "stable" at 4.3%.

"At the same time, the number of COVID-related patients in hospitals is falling faster now every week," Mr Drakeford said.

Mr Drakeford said the figures "give us ground for optimism" but warned that Wales would be coming out of lockdown with a more infectious form of the virus present across the country.

Elsewhere in the UK - the infection rate has begun to level off.

In Northern Ireland, the ONS estimates around one in 310 people had COVID in the week to 6 March, up from one in 325 - and around one in 320 people in Scotland for the same period, up from one in 335.

The data, which does not cover care homes and hospitals, is based on swab tests from thousands of people regardless of whether or not they have symptoms.

Sarah Crofts, senior statistician for the COVID-19 Infection Survey, said: "We are seeing a mixed picture across the UK this week.

"Infection levels in England and Wales have continued to decrease in the week ending 6 March but appear to be levelling off in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

"It's reassuring to see infection levels in the majority of English regions also continuing to decrease - however, it's important for us to remain cautious and closely monitor those regions that are not showing a clear decrease.

"These are in the south of England, Yorkshire and the Humber and the West Midlands."

It comes after data on Thursday showed more than 23 million people have now had their first dose of a vaccine.