COVID-19: 'Pingdemic' blamed on 'steep' rise in cases as estimated infections in England hit six-month high

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The so-called "pingdemic" is the result of a "steep" rise in COVID cases, a senior health chief has said - as the estimated number of people with the virus in England hit a six-month high.

Latest figures show one in 75 people in England are likely to have had COVID-19 last week - the highest number since the end of January.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in England the estimated number testing positive for the virus in the community was 741,700 in the week to 17 July.

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This equates to around one in 75 people, up from one in 95 people in the previous week, and is the highest number since the week to 30 January.

Dr Jenny Harries, head of the UK Health Security Agency, said an increase in coronavirus cases was to blame for the "pingdemic" which has seen 618,903 people asked to self-isolate by the NHS app in the week to 14 July.

Dr Harries said: "What we are seeing now is a very, very steep rise in cases, so the 'pingdemic' is because we have a pandemic.

"This is the first time really that we have been on an upward curve, an upward trajectory, so it is inevitable that a large number of people will be asked to isolate."

Dr Harries said it is crucial people still follow the guidance and self-isolate if "pinged" by the app - separate to Test and Trace - to help stop transmission.

She added: "The critical thing about this is that self-isolation is a really important component. We know that you're five times more likely to become a case yourself if you have been in close contact and this is the way we can stop transmission occurring."

The government has faced calls to bring forward the date at which people who are double vaccinated against coronavirus can avoid self-isolation in the face of the "pingdemic".

Emergency measures have been launched aimed at safeguarding food supplies, with around 10,000 critical workers in the sector told they would not need to quarantine if alerted by the NHS app.

A small number of named people in other industries such as transport will also be able to be free from self-isolation if they have received both doses of the coronavirus jab.

However, there is business frustration that it does not cover supermarket store workers or other parts of the economy, amid staff shortages.

Ministers are under pressure to bring forward the relaxation of quarantine rules for the fully vaccinated, currently planned for 16 August.

There are some signs the third wave is beginning to slow. On Friday, the UK recorded 36,389 cases - the third daily drop in a row and 15,000 fewer cases than the same day last week.

However, Dr Harries said it is too early to tell if cases are levelling off and that we may see an "uptick" again as the effects of most restrictions in England being lifted are felt.

She said: "The problem we have at the moment is we've had differential activity across the country.

"So the North West is a hotspot, the North East has been very active recently - although that may be topping out - the South East is growing so we need to watch right across the country.

"We do need to be careful because of the 19 July. Its cases will start coming through now as people increase their socialisation we may well see an upward tick again over the next few weeks."

Separate government data showed the country's coronavirus reproduction or R number remained steady from last week at between 1.2 and 1.4.

The R value represents the average number of people each COVID-positive person goes on to infect.

When the figure is above 1, an outbreak can grow exponentially but when it is below 1, it means the coronavirus epidemic is shrinking.

The current figure means that, on average, every 10 people infected with the virus will go on to infect between 12 and 14 others.

The growth rate for the virus in England shows the number of new infections is growing by between 4% and 6% every day.

Last week, that figure was between 4% and 7%.

The R number and daily growth rate varies across the country indicating where the virus is spreading faster.

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