The high rate of coronavirus infections in the North of England is likely to spread to the rest of the country within weeks, a major government study has warned.
A new report based on the testing of 175,000 volunteers between 18 September and 5 October found 1 in 170 people in England had the virus with as many as 45,000 new infections every day.
The latest report from the REACT study involving Imperial College London and Ipsos MORI said there was an 8-fold increase in infections of those aged over 65 compared to the previous full report.
Infections are increasing across all age groups and regions in England, with the highest rates seen in young people aged between 18 and 24-years-old.
The latest estimate of the rate of growth for infections, also realeased on Friday, found the growth rate for infections was between four and nine per cent a day. The rate of transmission was calculatd by the government’s SAGE committee as between 1.2 and 1.5.
In a statement the government said: “SAGE is almost certain that the epidemic continues to grow exponentially across the country, and is confident that the transmission is not slowing. While the R value remains above 1.0, infections will continue to grow at an exponential rate. This is currently the case for every region of England and all have positive growth rates, reflecting increases in the number of new infections across the country."
The REACT study said 1 in 80 of every 18-24 year old in England was infected, with 1 in 170 infected across all ages
In the North West, where there have been large rates of hospital admissions in recent days, as many as 1 in 100 people had the virus, the highest regional level, followed by the North East. Th Prevalence of the virus in London was 0.45 per cent.
The infection was worse among Asian and black people with a rate of 0.9 per cent and 0.73 per cent compared to 0.45 per cent for white people.
Professor Paul Elliott, director of the REACT programme at Imperial said: “Our robust findings paint a concerning picture of the growing epidemic across England.
“While certain areas are worse affected, if left unabated then infection trends will follow nation-wide and could lead to high levels of unnecessary death and illness from the disease.”
The report confirms the virus was doubling every 29 days and 60 people per 10,000 were infected.
Dr Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, from Imperial College London, said: "The REACT study along with the ONS infection survey data provide the most comprehensive estimates as to the true level of Covid-19 across the country therefore today’s findings are very concerning.
"Particularly, the 8-fold increase in infections in those 65 years or older who are most risk of hospitalisation and poor outcomes from the virus is likely to result in rising hospitalisation and strain on the NHS over coming weeks.”
Prof Kevin McConway, from the The Open University, added: “These results apply to England only. But unlike data from testing of people within the Test and Trace programme and other testing schemes in hospitals and similar, REACT-1 tests a large representative sample of people from the English population.
“Therefore its results don’t depend on the availability of tests to the general public, and aren’t affected by changes in availability or in the types of people in the general public who are being tested. The results are therefore generally reliable, in my view. “
The Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission (REACT-1) programme is the largest piece of research looking at how the virus is spreading across the country.
It is one of several studies that feed into government decision-making and policies on tackling the spread of Covid-19 in England.
Kelly Beaver, managing director of public affairs at Ipsos MORI said: “We have seen a huge response this round with 175,000 people taking part which is hugely appreciated.
“The results from this study are so important during the pandemic and so I’d like to thank all of those who have taken part and encourage those who receive letters from us for the next round to take part so we can again have a set of strong results to help support government decision making.”
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