Tens of millions of people could have already caught the coronavirus, according to German scientists studying the pandemic.
Two researchers from Göttingen University claimed countries have only spotted six per cent of all COVID-19 cases, on average.
But the team also claimed that the rate was even lower in the UK, at just 1.2 per cent – suggesting the true size of the outbreak was up to 5million.
Rates – which the researchers said were true up to March 31 – were also staggeringly low in Italy (3.5 per cent), Spain (1.7 per cent) and the US (1.6 per cent).
Because of the huge disparity, they described the official tallies trotted out by health ministers across the world each day as ‘rather meaningless’.
Official statistics show around 1.5million people worldwide have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Based on the researchers’ claim, this would suggest the true size of the pandemic is now in the region of 26million – if nothing has changed in the past week.
Official statistics show around 1.5million people worldwide have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus
Professor Sebastian Vollmer and Dr Christian Bommer, whose findings have not been scrutinised by other scientists under a peer-review process, estimated that Germany has detected around 15.6 per cent of all cases
SO HOW BIG WOULD THE OUTBREAKS BE IN EUROPE AND THE US?
% DETECTED: 15.6%
MARCH 31 CASES: 71,808
MOST RECENT TOLL: 108,202
MARCH 31 ESTIMATE: 460,000
MOST RECENT ESTIMATE: 700,000
% DETECTED: 1.2%
MARCH 31 CASES: 25,481
MOST RECENT TOLL: 60,733
MARCH 31 ESTIMATE: 2million
MOST RECENT ESTIMATE: 5million
% DETECTED: 1.7%
MARCH 31 CASES: 95,923
MOST RECENT TOLL: 152,446
MARCH 31 ESTIMATE: 5.7million
MOST RECENT ESTIMATE: 9million
% DETECTED: 3.5%
MARCH 31 CASES: 105,792
MOST RECENT TOLL: 139,442
MARCH 31 ESTIMATE: 3million
MOST RECENT ESTIMATE: 4million
The German researchers only provided the estimate for March 31, given their calculations for the true size of the outbreaks across Europe at the time.
The estimate for the most recent case toll is based on the same maths, which is likely to have changed given that more people have now been tested.
Professor Sebastian Vollmer and Dr Christian Bommer, whose findings have not been scrutinised by other scientists under a peer-review process, used data from a study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.
The pair estimated that Germany has detected around 15.6 per cent of all cases.
Germany has been hailed for its rigorous COVID-19 testing regime, with laboratories analysing results from up to 90,000 swabs a day.
The country’s official coronavirus case toll stands at 108,202 and 2,107 patients have died – giving it a mortality rate of around 1.9 per cent.
In comparison, the mortality rate in the UK is six times higher – around 11.7 per cent -because of the UK’s testing fiasco.
Number 10 has promised to dramatically scale-up efforts to meet swabbing levels seen in Germany by the end of April.
But experts have described the ambition as ‘a stretch’ and NHS bosses themselves have said the targets are unrealistic.
The UK only currently tests hospital patients and frontline NHS staff for the virus – it tested around 13,000 people yesterday.
Tens of thousands of cases will go unnoticed under the regime because they don’t suffer symptoms or are affected only mildly.
Professor Vollmer and Dr Bommer predicted the rate of diagnosed cases in the UK was just 1.2 per cent on March 31.
At the time the UK had recorded just 25,000 cases, which would have equated to a figure of 2million, under their calculations.
Given that the UK’s official case toll stands at 60,733, it would mean around 5million Britons have been struck down in total using the same maths.
In the early days of the outbreak, the Government used its own modelling scheme of estimating around 1,000 cases for every one death.
Under this same projection, it would suggest that around 7million Britons had been struck down by the life-threatening virus.
Professor Vollmer said: ‘These results mean governments and policy-makers need to exercise extreme caution when interpreting case numbers for planning purposes.’
He added that ‘such extreme differences in testing’ mean official case records are ‘largely uninformative and do not provide helpful information’.
Dr Bommer added: ‘Major improvements in the ability of countries to detect new infections and contain the virus are urgently needed.’
The pair added that putting an end to current lockdowns across Europe ‘requires a strong reduction in the transmission of new cases’.
And they called for ‘major improvements in the ability of countries to detect new infections’ to get a more accurate picture on the true crisis.
They wrote: ‘In absence of such measures, the virus might remain undetected again for an extended period of time and a new outbreak is likely just a matter of time.’