A CORONAVIRUS symptom tracker app has predicted the next hotspot areas which could go into lockdown.
A surge in cases in Leicester led to the UK’s first local lockdown with schools closed and pubs and restaurants banned from reopening this weekend.
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Now scientists at King’s College London warn that Dudley, Wolverhampton and Walsall could be heading in the same direction.
New modelling from their COVID symptom tracker app estimates the number of cases based on data from 3.7 million users.
The researchers, who are working alongside health tech company ZOE, say that this model can find areas in the country that have a prevalence which is higher than its neighbours and is likely to lead to an increase in confirmed cases and hospitalisation in the following 5 and 12 days respectively.
They hope that the data from the app could help detect outbreaks like Leicester soon and prevent major lockdowns in future.
Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College and lead researcher, said: “This fresh look at the data was inspired by the local lockdown in Leicester.
“We challenged ourselves to see if our app data could highlight any other local hotspots and we are really pleased that it does.
“The new model picked up Leicester as a consistent hotspot back on the June 17, which suggests it is accurately picking up places of concern.”
[It] could detect problems like Leicester much earlier and hopefully reduce the number of major lockdowns
Prof Tim Spector
He added: “With our data now flagging up potential new hotspots, it will allow for greater surveillance and focussed testing that could detect problems like Leicester much earlier and hopefully reduce the number of major lockdowns.
“But to do this more successfully we still need more people to join us by logging how they are feeling each day so we can send out kits to those feeling unwell and catch these outbreaks and help us closely monitor what is going on in the UK population.”
The research team use three key criteria to identify hotspots.
First, the local authority area must have a significantly higher prevalence of Covid than neighbouring authorities.
It needs to be in the top 10th percentile of prevalance in the UK and that figure must be higher than 10 days ago.
But experts warn that while the modelling is useful, it relies on data from app users who are asked to report symptoms.
Prof Keith Neal, an epidemiologist from University of Nottingham, said: “The Zoe COVID symptom app is a useful additional surveillance tool especially as data is in real time.
“The main issue is that it monitors Covid symptoms rather than Covid itself. Many of the people who are tested with Covid symptoms are negative.
“The system is not specific enough to be used to introduce a local lockdown but definitely can be used to identify areas of potential concern where testing can be increased.”
New data from the app also suggests that the number of current infections in the UK has fallen by 34 per cent.
Estimates reveal there are currently an estimated 1,445 new cases of Covid in the UK every day based on figures over the two weeks June 14 to June 27.
The highest rates of new cases are still found in the Midlands, according to the data.
Regional cases breakdown
The latest data from the Covid symptom tracker app suggests daily new infections are down by 34 per cent since last week
The figures were based on 10,393 swab tests from 14 to 24 June based on 31 positive results.
Here’s the breakdown…
UK – 1,445
England – 1,225
South East – 185
London – 84
Midlands – 422
East of England – 164
South West – 92
North East and Yorkshire – 215
North West – 104
Wales – 132
Scotland – 88
These figures were based on 10,393 swab tests from June 14 to June 24 based on 31 positive results.
It comes as statistics released in Public Health England’s preliminary investigation into the Leicester outbreak suggested a slight drop in infection rate.
The report, published last night, shows in the week to June 20 to the seven days prior to June 27 – rates were down from 140.2 to 135.7 per 100,000 people.
It also suggests the overall infection rate in England fell over the same period from 10.7 to 6.7 per 100,000 – despite the easing of some lockdown restrictions.
Rates in Bradford, Barnsley and Rochdale declined more sharply over the same period.
Officials in regions with high infection rates have said they are working hard not to follow Leicester into lockdown.
The report also suggested the majority of recently confirmed cases are in people aged 18 to 65 years – with the median age of those infected standing at 39 years.
And 50.9 per cent of the cases reported in June in the city were in women.
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The wards of North Evington, Belgrave and Stoneygate had the highest number of cases reported between June 11 and 25.
But the report concluded evidence for the scale of the outbreak was limited and an increase in reported cases could be partly due to a rise in the availability of testing.
The Office for National Statistics will on Thursday provide new figures from the coronavirus infection survey for England, and the latest data on the NHS Test and Trace programme will also be published.