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Coronavirus infection rates doubling every seven to eight days in England, study shows

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Coronavirus infection rates are doubling every seven to eight days in England, new findings have shown.

The highest rates are being seen in young people aged 18 to 24 years, while the lowest rates were seen in over 65s.

Coronavirus infections are doubling every 7.7 days in England, a study has shown
Coronavirus infections are doubling every 7.7 days in England, a study has shown

The study from Imperial College London and Ipsos MORI estimates that 13 people per 10,000 were infected in England between August 22 and September 7, compared to four people per 10,000 between July 24 and August 11.

The R number - indicating how many people on average a person with the virus is infecting - is estimated to be 1.7. It needs to be below one to prevent the virus spreading.

The report notes: ”While in England there has yet to be notable increases in hospitalisations or deaths associated with the resurgence in infection, this is not the case in other European countries, such as France and Spain, where hospitalisations are increasing substantially.”

It follows the announcement of new restrictions that limit social gatherings to six people from Monday.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “We’ve seen all across the world how a rise in cases, initially among younger people, leads to hospitalisations and fatalities. The pandemic is not over, and everyone has a role to play to keep the virus at bay and avoid another further restrictions.

“It’s so important that everyone abides by the law and socialise in groups up to six, make space between you and those outside your household, get a test and self-isolate if you develop symptoms and wash your hands regularly. It is vital you engage with NHS Test and Trace service if contacted to provide details of your close contacts and self-isolate if you are asked to do so.”

The study has involving collecting data from 594,000 swabs tested for SARS-CoV-2 virus between May and September 7, across a representative sample of people during four phases.

The most recent two rounds involved 150,000 nose and throat swabs taken between July 24 and August 11 and another 150,000 between August 22 and September 7.

It found cases are no clustering in healthcare or care home settings, as they were in May and June, but spreading more widely in the community and across all age groups below the age of 65.

Infection is highest in Yorkshire and the Humber, the North East and the North West.

Professor Paul Elliott, director of the programme at Imperial from the School of Public Health, said: “Our large and robust dataset clearly shows a concerning trend in coronavirus infections, where cases are growing quickly across England and are no longer concentrated in key workers.

“What we are seeing is evidence of an epidemic in the community and not a result of increased testing capacity. This is a critical time and it’s vital that the public, our health system and policy-makers are aware of the situation as we cannot afford complacency.”

The study found:

  • Overall prevalence of infection in the community was 0.13 per cent, or 13 people per 10,000.
  • Out of 152,909 swab results, 136 were positive.
  • Prevalence is doubling every 7.7 days
  • The reproduction R number was estimated to be 1.7
  • Prevalence of infection was highest in Yorkshire and the Humber and the North West at 0.17 per cent followed by 0.16 per cent in the North East. The East, which includes Cambridgeshire, had an infection rate of 0.08 per cent.
  • There were no significant differences between the prevalence of infection for key workers and non-key workers.
  • Recent contact with a known Covid-19 case (confirmed or tested) was associated with a higher prevalence at 2.74 per cent than for no contact with a Covid-19 case at 0.08 per cent.
  • Black (0.20 per cent), Asian (0.20 per cent), mixed (0.16 per cent) and other ethnicity (0.23 per cent) was associated with higher prevalence of infection
  • The highest rates of infection were at 0.25 per cent in young adults aged 18 to 24 years, up from 0.08 per cent from July 24 to August 11.
  • The prevalence of infection increased at all ages from 18-64 years between July and August 2020.
  • 65 per cent of participants who tested positive did not report any symptoms at the time of swabbing or in the previous seven days.
  • The prevalence was highest amongst those who reported classic Covid symptoms (high temperature, new continuous cough, loss of smell or taste) at 0.68 per cent.

The authors of the report added: “Until effective vaccines are available and widely disseminated, control of the SARS-CoV-2 virus must rely on established public health measures including social distancing, frequent hand-washing, and face covers. Our early data, as we exited lockdown, demonstrate the high level of effectiveness of stringent social distancing in reducing transmission of the virus, with prevalence rates decreasing by 75 per cent over a three-month period to early August. However, since then prevalence has increased, perhaps reflecting holiday travel, return to work, or a more general increase in the number and transmission potential of social interactions.”

Kelly Beaver, managing director for public affairs at Ipsos MORI, said: “Each and every participant in our study has contributed immensely to the national effort in tracking Covid-19 across England. I would like to thank all those who have taken part for their invaluable contribution. By participating in the study they have helped to provide timely data to government on the rise in case numbers and allowed ministers to adopt measures to combat that rise.”

The Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission (REACT-1) programme was commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care.

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