England’s Covid-19 outbreak grows 64% in a week

The number of people catching coronavirus in England is still spiralling and there were an estimated 27,900 new infections per day in the first week of this month, according to the ONS.

Weekly Office for National Statistics data showed that for the week ending October 8 a total of 336,500 people are thought to have had Covid-19 at any one time.

One in every 160 people may have been carrying the virus during that week and the ONS said: ‘The number of infections has continued to increase rapidly in recent weeks.’ 

Separate estimates from the Covid Symptom Study by King’s College London agreed that daily infections are still rising – for the eighth week in a row.

That weekly prediction said there are now around 21,600 people catching the virus each day in England, alongside 27,800 across the UK as a whole. 

Although the numbers are considerably higher than anything since the first wave in the spring and the highest of all the ONS’s data for the past five months, they still pale in comparison to March’s outbreak, when more than 100,000 people were catching the virus every day.

And both studies – which release data once a week to estimate the true scale of Britain’s ongoing outbreak – suggest that the speed at which the crisis is escalating has dropped. While the ONS’s estimate of daily infections more than doubled from 8,400 to 17,200 at the end of September – a 104 per cent increase – this week’s figures marked a rise of 64 per cent. 

And the increase in King’s College’s project has slowed, too, with it projecting a rise of more than 116 per cent in mid-September but this has since dropped to 28 per cent in the most recent week, to October 11.

Professor Tim Spector, who leads the Covid Symptom Study, said today: ‘The data is no longer showing the exponential increases that we were seeing a couple of weeks ago, but is clearly showing new cases continuing to rise.’

The ONS estimates that around 0.62 per cent of the population of England was infected with coronavirus during the week from October 2 to October 8. 

This is the highest estimate it has produced since data began in late April and a marked surge from 0.41 per cent a week earlier (ending October 1).

‘In recent weeks there has been clear evidence of an increase in the number of people testing positive for Covid-19,’ the report said, ‘with the current rates highest in older teenagers and young adults.

‘Smaller increases are also apparent across all of the other age groups, apart from individuals aged 70 and over.

‘There is clear evidence of variation in Covid-19 infection rates across the regions of England, with highest rates seen in the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, and the North East, which have all seen steep increases in recent weeks.’

The random testing programme’s results were this week based on results from 211,851 swab tests. A total of 1,062 tests were positive from 926 people living in 723 households.

Using this data and applying it statistically to the entire population – taking into account where the people who tested positive were living and how old they were, for example – the researchers can estimate the true size of the outbreak in England.

The official Department of Health testing programme does not pick up all infections because a majority of people have no symptoms when they’re infected with Covid-19. 

In the week up to October 8, to match the ONS study’s time period, an average 12,781 people were diagnosed each day in England, suggesting fewer than half of people (46 per cent) who catch the virus actually get tested and have a positive result.

The King’s College London’s Covid Symptom Study has made similar findings to the ONS report.

Based on 13,361 swab tests done between 27 September and 11 October, the team said there were 27,762 people catching symptomatic coronavirus every day during that time across the whole UK. 21,642 of these daily infections were in England. They do not include people who don’t get any symptoms, nor hospital or care home patients.

The figures are up from last week but show a smaller rise than what was seen in September, increasing by 27 per cent in a week (UK) compared to a 114 per cent rise between September 17 and 24 but faster than the 11 per cent the week before last.

Professor Tim Spector, the epidemiologist in charge of the project, confirmed that his project suggests the rate of increase had slowed.

He said: ‘The data is no longer showing the exponential increases that we were seeing a couple of weeks ago, but is clearly showing new cases continuing to rise. 

‘The North West still has the most cases and the fastest acceleration of cases with doubling times of around 10 days. Slowing this rapid rise is a priority. 

‘Scotland, Wales, London and the Midlands are slowly increasing with a doubling time of 14 to 28 days and the South and East of England remaining relatively flat with five-fold fewer cases than the worst hit regions. 

‘Our data is roughly seven to 10 days ahead of other sources meaning that it acts like an early warning system, whilst we wait for the data from the confirmed cases.’