The coronavirus is still infecting 61,000 people per week in England, testing data revealed today.
The true figure could be as high as 111,000 people every seven days or as low as 29,000, the data shows.
Around 0.25 per cent of the population is believed to be infected with the virus right now – around 137,500 people, with a possible range of 85,000 to 208,000 – and experts say the rate of infection is ‘relatively stable’.
This proportion has dropped by a tiny amount in the past week, from 0.27 per cent last Thursday, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The government’s statistics body calculated the data using test results from 14,599 people in 7,054 households across the country.
Only 35 out of the 14,599 people tested positive for COVID-19 when they were swabbed at some point between May 4 and May 17.
The results come as leaked results from an antibody survey – blood tests designed to reveal who has recovered from the illness – suggest that young people are getting infected more often, even though their levels of severe illness are extremely low.
Data seen by the Health Service Journal suggests that in London, which was at the heart of Britain’s outbreak, people aged between 17 and 29 were most likely to have been infected.
This is shown not in hospital data but in surveys of who has antibodies – substances in the immune system – to show that they have fought off the disease already.
Data from the Office for National Statistics’ population survey has estimated that 0.25 per cent of the population of England is infected with the coronavirus – 137,500 people. The figure is based on 35 people testing positive for the virus out of a sample of 14,599
HEALTH WORKERS ARE NOT AT GREATER RISK, DATA SHOWS
There was no evidence of increased infection from coronavirus among frontline NHS and care staff compared with those not working in such roles during two weeks in May, official analysis suggests.
The Office for National Statistics estimates 0.24 per cent of people working in patient or resident-facing roles in health and social care tested positive for coronavirus between May 4 -17.
These include people such as NHS professionals, nurses, doctors, social care, nursing home and home-care workers.
The estimated percentage of people who said they did not work in these types of roles and who tested positive for Covid-19 was very similar.
Because the ranges the ONS believes the true percentage falls in for both categories are large and overlap, it said there is ‘no evidence of a difference between patient-facing healthcare or resident-facing social care roles and people not working in these roles’.
This has changed from the estimates reported by the body last week, which showed 1.33 per cent of people in the health and care roles tested positive, compared with 0.22 per cent of those not reporting working in the roles.
This estimate is based on tests performed on 14,599 people in 7,054 households.
The figures refer to infections reported in the community, and exclude those reported in hospitals, care homes or other institutional settings.
The survey is designed to help track the current extent of infection and transmission of Covid-19 among the community population – specifically private households.
The 35 people who tested positive for current infection in the ONS survey came from 32 different households.
This suggests that many of them either lived alone or had managed not to infect the people they live with.
The ONS report, which is released weekly, said: ‘When comparing… the results in this publication against the results published in the previous publication, it should be noted that the change is relatively small and it should be interpreted that the number of people in England that have COVID-19 is relatively stable.’
Britain’s lockdown was relaxed towards the end of the testing period this data covers, on May 13.
More people are likely to have given swab samples in the first 10 days of the still locked down period (May 4 and May 13) than in the four days after lockdown relaxed.
Therefore it is difficult to draw any conclusions about the effect new rules have had so far on the rate of infection.
People are now allowed to spend unlimited amounts of time outside, as long as they stay 2m (6’6″) away from others, and more people are returning to work.
If the number of people infected, and the speed at which the virus is spreading, continue to come down, the government will consider starting to reopen schools and high street shops in June.
The ONS report this week contained an estimated reproduction rate of the virus, putting it at between 0.7 and 1.
This means every 10 people are infecting between seven and 10 others, on average, and the outbreak should be shrinking.
Levels of the virus are believed to be higher in hospitals and care homes, and those tests are not included in this data. The ONS said: ‘In these settings, rates of COVID-19 infection are likely to be higher.’
EUROPE MUST BRACE FOR SECOND OUTBREAK
Europe will be hit by a second wave of coronavirus – it’s just a question of when and how big, according to the EU’s boss on disease control.
Dr Andrea Ammon urged the continent to prepare for another crisis, which she said was inevitable because so few people will have developed COVID-19 immunity.
Studies suggest less than 15 per cent of the population in Europe’s worst-hit nations have already been infected, leaving the majority vulnerable in the future.
Dr Ammon warned the virus – scientifically known as SARS-CoV-2 – is not going away any time soon because it is ‘very well adapted to humans’.
Top experts have warned against celebrating figures that show dwindling outbreaks across Europe because the battle is yet to be won.
Almost all scientists agree the infection is bound to re-emerge in a second wave in the absence of a vaccine or cure for the coronavirus.
The biggest fear is the second wave will occur during the winter and coincide with flu season, which could overwhelm already swamped hospitals.
However, its data did not show that rates among healthcare workers were higher for people who were tested at home in its sample.
This week’s data showed that 0.24 per cent of working adults were infected, regardless of whether they worked in patient-facing healthcare.
Fewer than half as many medical workers tested positive compared to last week. However, because the numbers are so small this is easily skewed.
Last week, 1.33 per cent of patient-facing employees tested positive, compared to 0.22 per cent of people with other jobs.
This week’s data showed no increased likelihood of infection based on age or sex.
Early data from Public Health England, however, has suggested that young people are more likely to have caught the virus – at least in London.
Antibody surveys carried out by the government body have shown that the COVID-19 infection rate appears to be highest among 17 to 29-year-olds in the capital.
PHE’s Dr Mary Ramsay told the Health Service Journal that the likelihood of having had the infection already ‘declined with age’, according to the data.
‘It’s the exact opposite to what we see for disease,’ she said.
‘We see disease in older adults predominantly, whereas with infection we appear to be seeing it in younger adults. It’s a very interesting finding and quite possibly unexpected…
YOUNG BRITS GETTING LAX ABOUT LOCKDOWN LIFE
Less than half of 19 to 30-year-olds are ‘strictly’ abiding by Britain’s lockdown rules, according to a major study.
Among all adults, complete compliance has fallen from 70 per cent to under 60 per cent in the last fortnight.
The study of 90,000 Britons found people are still sticking to the bulk of the rules, but are starting to ignore things like keeping two metres apart.
University College London researchers, behind the research, said there had been a drop off in confidence in the Government since it switched its stance from ‘stay at home’ to the more ambiguous ‘stay alert’ on May 10.
Lead author Dr Daisy Fancourt, of UCL’s epidemiology and health care unit, said: ‘Confidence in Government has fallen in England since the easing of lockdown was announced, and is lowest in those under the age of 30.’
‘We have limited data from other regions, but the patterns are similar.’
Public Health England has tested the blood of more than 185,000 people to check for signs of coronavirus antibodies since it started the programme months ago.
Antibodies are substances in the immune system which store the body’s memory of how to fight off an illness. They are only present in someone who has been exposed to the bug through catching the illness or having a vaccine.
The preliminary study by PHE showed that more than 10 per cent of 17 to 29-year-olds in the capital appeared to have been infected by the middle of April.
And the second highest level of infection was in the next age group, between 30 and 39.
The Office for National Statistics is expected to put out similar, more comprehensive data but so far does not have enough information.
It said in its report today: ‘Adults from around 2,000 households will also provide a blood sample taken by a trained nurse, phlebotomist or healthcare assistant.
‘These tests, the results of which are not yet available, will help determine what proportion of the population has developed antibodies to COVID-19.’