Nearly 100,000 Britons are getting infected with coronavirus every day, according to results of Government-led surveillance study that suggests the UK is hurtling towards a second peak that could rival the first.
The REACT-1 project — which has been swabbing tens of thousands of people every week — estimated there were around 96,000 people getting infected every day in England by October 25.
Imperial College London experts behind the research warned cases were just weeks away from surpassing levels seen during the darkest days of the pandemic in March and April. Previous projections have estimated there were slightly more than 100,000 daily cases in spring, which led to over 40,000 deaths in the first wave.
The study warned infections are doubling every nine days, suggesting there could be 200,000 daily cases by the first week of November.
Imperial researchers said it was possible that the recent wet and dreary weather had played a role in the surge in infections, by driving people indoors where the virus finds it easier to spread. But they warned it was more likely a small dip in adherence to social distancing rules across the board had opened the door for the highly infectious disease to spread more rapidly.
Imperial’s best guess is that 1.3 per cent of everyone living in England was carrying the disease by October 25, the equivalent of one in 75, or 730,000 people. Covid-19 prevalence was highest in Yorkshire and The Humber (2.7 per cent) and the North West (2.3 per cent).
The study, which will likely be used to pile more pressure on No10 to impose a national lockdown, also estimated the virus’ reproduction ‘R’ rate — the average number of people each Covid-19 patient infects — was nearly three in London, a finding the researchers described as ‘scary’. It was lower in the North West, where millions of people are living under draconian lockdowns.
Overall, the R rate was around 1.6 across England in the most recent week, compared to 1.16 in the previous round. Experts have repeatedly warned it is critical the reproduction rate stays below the level of one to prevent cases from spiralling.
It comes after another 310 Covid-19 victims were recorded last night and 367 the day before, in the highest daily toll since the end of May. But the 26,688 infections reported yesterday was actually the first week-on-week fall in a month — though the central testing programme is missing asymptomatic and mild cases of the virus, which make up the vast majority of infections.
The REACT-1 study – commissioned by the Department of Health – has been swabbing tens of thousands of people since summer. The latest findings from the most recent phase (round six, in dark blue) show increases in transmission in every region of England
Researchers sent swabs to 85,971 volunteers in England between October 16 and October 25. In total, 863 were positive (1.28 per cent) – more than double the 0.6 per cent the week before. Pictured: How cases have surged since summer, according to findings from all six phases of the study
The study also found prevalence of infection was highest in Yorkshire and The Humber at 2.72 per cent, up from 0.84 per cent the week before. This was followed by the North West at 2.27 per cent, up from 1.21 per cent. Prevalence was lowest in East of England at 0.55 per cent, up from 0.29 per cent
Rates of the disease also increased across all age groups, with the greatest rise in those aged 55-64 at 1.20 per cent, up three-fold from 0.37 per cent in a week. In those aged over 65, prevalence was 0.81 per cent, having doubled from 0.35 per cent. Rates remained highest in 18 to 24-year olds at 2.25 per cent
The study found that the virus’ reproduction ‘R’ rate – the average number of people each Covid-19 patient infects – was 1.6 across England in the most recent week, compared to 1.16 in the previous round. The R is thought to be hovering between 1 and 1.5 in the north and greater than two in the South East and South West. In London it’s estimated to be nearly three
Reacting to the study, Professor Igor Rudan, joint director of the Centre for Global Health and WHO Collaborating Centre, University of Edinburgh, said: ‘This study should be considered very accurate and reliable scientific evidence that shows that a very large second wave of Covid-19 pandemic is underway. It will inevitably lead to a very large number of infections, severe episodes and deaths in the coming weeks and months.
‘Efforts will be required to reduce the national reproduction number below one again. The measures that were in place over the past two months across most of Europe were clearly insufficient to prevent the new large growth of infected cases and fast spread of the virus. I commend the authors for this excellent effort.’
Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said: ‘This latest REACT study contains some sobering numbers… eighteen to 24-year-olds remain the age group with the highest level of infections, but in the 55 to 64 age group, the number infected people has tripled, demonstrating how the virus spreads into more at risk people if left unchecked. We can expect this situation to continue to deteriorate if authorities remain slow to react.’
The study – commissioned by the Department of Health – sent swabs to 85,971 volunteers in England between October 16 and October 25. In total, 863 were positive (1.28 per cent) – more than double the 0.6 per cent the week before.
Prevalence of the virus among people aged 55 to 64 increased more than threefold in the last week and in the over-65s – who are most vulnerable to Covid-19 – the rate doubled.
Professor Paul Elliott, director of the programme at Imperial, said the findings were ‘worrying’. He believes that Brits have universally relaxed how strictly they have been following social distancing rules.
Although these may only have been small changes, he warned: ‘A little shift in everybody’s behavior can have a big effect [on the trajectory of the virus].’
Professor Elliot added: ‘The findings paint a concerning picture of the situation in England, where we’re seeing a nation-wide increase in infection prevalence, which we know will lead to more hospitalisations and loss of life.
‘We’re also detecting early signs that areas which previously had low rates of infection are following trends observed in the country’s worst-affected areas.
‘Now more than ever we must all work together to curb further spread of the virus and avoid subsequent overwhelming of the health service.’
Daily Covid-19 infections hit 24,701 in first DROP for a month but deaths rise to 310
Britain’s daily number of Covid-19 cases dropped week-on-week on Wednesday for the first time in a month.
Health chiefs announced 24,701 more infections, down slightly from the 26,688 positive coronavirus tests last Wednesday.
It means it was the first time the daily number of cases has fallen on the amount recorded the week before since September 28, when the tally was affected by a counting blunder.
But deaths are continuing to rise. Another 310 coronavirus victims were recorded today, up from the 191 posted this time last week. Wales today recorded 37 deaths — its highest amount of coronavirus in a single day since April.
The disparity between the official testing figures and REACT-1’s estimates may be explained by multiple factors.
REACT-1 is technically four days out of date, because it only covers up to October 25.
So the virus may have slowed down somewhat in those five days as local lockdowns start to take effect.
Although this is unlikely to have played a very significant role because official testing is only catching a fraction of the true infections.
It is more likely the case that it is a blip in the official testing programme, which is struggling to swab more than 300,000 people a day.
Most people suffer very mild or no Covid symptoms at all, so they never reach out to get a test.
The REACT-1 study has the benefit of randomly testing people regardless of their symptoms, therefore painting a more accurate picture of the current crisis.
The study found that the virus’ reproduction ‘R’ rate – the average number of people each Covid-19 patient infects – was 1.6 across England in the most recent week, compared to 1.16 in the previous round.
The R is thought to be hovering between 1 and 1.5 in the north, which has been bearing the brunt of the second wave of infections and where swathes have been under Tier Three local lockdowns.
However, the R is thought to be greater than two in the South East and South West, which have up until now managed to dodge the worst of the crisis, and nearly three in London.
Experts have repeatedly warned it is critical the R rate stays below the level of one to prevent cases from spiralling.
News that it is almost three times greater than that in the capital was described as ‘scary’ by Professor Elliot.
The high R numbers in the south are to be interpreted with caution, though, because they have wide confidence margins.
This is because transmission is a lot lower in the south compared to the north, so pinning down a precise R number is more difficult.
Professor Elliot added: ‘It’s a scary number in London, but an imprecise estimate. Putting a lot of attention to the exact R is unwise because of low prevalence but our study shown signs of sustained increase [in transmission].
‘In the South there is rapid increase [in cases] and rapid growth, but at much lower levels in the North. I’d say the South is where the North was a few weeks back.’
The team at Imperial concluded that the current three-tiered lockdown system was either ‘not working, or not being adhered to enough’.
Professor Elliot said: ‘It’s possible the latest lockdown measures have not trickled through into our data.
‘But, as of today, seeing increased rates across the country, be it behavioral or current policy, it [the current strategy] is not sufficient enough.’
Steven Riley, an infectious disease expert who co-led the study, warned the country was hurtling towards a repeat of the crisis in spring.
He said: ‘There’s a clear trend that hospital admissions are rising exponentially. Our data shows this exponential rise is to continue over the next two weeks.
‘Comparing [the winter wave] to the very peak in March is difficult, it’s probably still a bit lower [now] and the overall rate of growth is still lower.
‘But being slightly lower and slightly slower than March still means it is going up quickly and is already at a high level.’
Professor Riley said there ‘had to be a change’ in either public adherence or policy changes before Christmas to avoid another catastrophic death toll.
The study also found prevalence of infection was highest in Yorkshire and The Humber at 2.72 per cent, up from 0.84 per cent the week before.
This was followed by the North West at 2.27 per cent, up from 1.21 per cent. Prevalence was lowest in East of England at 0.55 per cent, up from 0.29 per cent.
Rates of the disease also increased across all age groups, with the greatest rise in those aged 55-64 at 1.20 per cent, up three-fold from 0.37 per cent in a week.
In those aged over 65, prevalence was 0.81 per cent, having doubled from 0.35 per cent. Rates remained highest in 18 to 24-year olds at 2.25 per cent.