One in five people in England may have already have had coronavirus, a far higher proportion than previously thought, according to new research.
The number of Covid-19 infections across England during the pandemic could be as high as 12.4 million, or 22 per cent of the population, said data analysts at Edge Health.
At least two in five people have contracted the virus in six council areas of London and the south east, according to new modelling by the company.
Researchers also estimate that one in three people in large parts of the northwest have had the virus – with as many as 38 per cent infected in Liverpool and Manchester.
The government’s own test-and-trace programme had recorded only 2.4 million cases of Covid-19 in England – only 8.7 per cent of the population – by 3 January.
“Reported tests are only a fraction of the picture of total infections, which show how badly hit London and the north-west have been during the pandemic,” said George Batchelor, director of Edge Health, which advises healthcare providers.
The company based its modelling by comparing the number of deaths in a particular local authority area against their own estimated infection fatality ratio (IFR), using age profiles and other data.
The modelling estimated that more than one in two people – 54.2 per cent – in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham have already contracted Covid. The staggering proportion of infections was found to be similar in Newham, where 49 per cent have contacted the virus.
Aside from east London, some of the other hardest-hit areas include Liverpool (with 38.8 per cent of the population infected), Manchester (38.6 per cent) and Rochdale (38 per cent). The areas with England’s lowest estimated infection rates were found to be in the south west: Devon with 5.9 per cent, Dorset 5.8 per cent and Cornwall 4.8 per cent.
“It is incredible that the level of understanding of where and how infections are occurring is not greater at this stage, since it would allow control measures to be more targeted,” said Mr Batchelor.
“Even with imminent vaccinations, it is crucial to develop this understanding so that future variants of the virus can be effectively controlled.”
University College London (UCL) professor Karl Friston said the number of new infections each day will be between four and eight times the number of cases confirmed by the government. He said there was a “pleasing consilience” between UCL modelling and the Edge Health findings.
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