Covid infections down in most parts of UK but levels remain high

·5-min read
The ONS said around one in 65 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to November 13 (PA) (PA Wire)
The ONS said around one in 65 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to November 13 (PA) (PA Wire)

Covid-19 infections have fallen in most parts of the UK, though levels remain high, new figures suggest.

Around one in 65 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to November 13, down from one in 60 the previous week, according to the latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

One in 65 is the equivalent of about 824,900 people.

The proportion of people in England who were estimated to have coronavirus at the peak of the second wave in early January was one in 50.

(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

Wales has also seen a drop, with one in 55 people estimated to have had Covid-19 in the week to November 13, down from one in 45 the previous week.

Infection levels in Wales hit one in 40 people in late October, the highest since estimates began in summer 2020.

The ONS described the trend in Northern Ireland as “uncertain”, with an estimate of one in 65 people in the most recent week – up from one in 75, but below the record high of one in 40 in mid-August.

For Scotland, the latest estimate is one in 95 people, down from one in 85 the previous week and below September’s peak of one in 45.

All figures are for people in private households and do not include hospitals, care homes and other settings.

The estimates come as a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warned that high infection levels are likely to put the NHS under “significant strain” and there is a potential for new cases of the virus to “take off”.

Professor John Edmunds told BBC Radio 4’s the World at One programme: “I think there’s a risk because of waning immunity in older individuals – and that’s all adults, not just the elderly – that cases could really take off.

“It’s really important that we boost immunity in older individuals and then we might be able to avoid any significant fourth wave.

“We’re going to have high levels of infection for many months, so I think the NHS will unfortunately be under significant strain. It may not get to breaking point, where we were close to before, but significant strain for a very long period of time is certainly on the cards.”

Professor Kevin McConway of the Open University said it was “good to see a pattern predominantly of decreases” in the latest ONS figures, but not to get “carried away”, describing infection levels as “quite high”.

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A positivity rate of one in 65 people in England is similar to that seen at the end of January, “when we were still locked down”, he added. “Now that vaccination has had such an effect on hospitalisations and deaths, a rate this high isn’t as concerning as it was earlier in the pandemic, but it’s still too high for comfort.

“Things aren’t yet anywhere near back to the pre-pandemic normal. We’re getting further into the cold season of the year when respiratory infections tend to do their worst.”

When estimating the level of Covid-19 infections among different age ranges in England, the ONS said rates have fallen for those in school years 7 to 11 and school year 12 to age 24, along with 35 to 49-year-olds and people aged 70 and over.

In all other age groups, including from age two to school year 6, the trend in the most recent week was uncertain.

Rates remained highest for those in school years 7 to 11, at 3.6%.

Across the regions of England, the percentage of people testing positive for Covid-19 is estimated to have dropped in the north-west, south-west, West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber.

In all other regions the trend was uncertain.

In the East Midlands, around one in 50 people was likely to test positive in the week to November 13 – the highest proportion for any region.

London had the lowest proportion, at around one in 80.

The number of Covid-19 infections in the UK, which is estimated every week by the ONS, is not the same as the number of new cases of coronavirus which are reported every day by the Government.

The number of infections provides a snapshot of the prevalence of Covid-19 within the entire community population of the UK, and estimates the percentage of people who are likely to test positive for the virus at any one point in time – regardless of when they caught the virus, how long they have had it, and whether they have symptoms.

It is based on a sample of swab tests collected from households across the UK.

By contrast, the number of cases of Covid-19 reported each day by the Government includes only those people who have newly tested positive for the virus, and is therefore affected by how many people are coming forward for tests, or who are taking a test because they know they have coronavirus symptoms.

The average number of new cases of Covid-19 in the UK has been on a slight upwards trend in recent days, but it is too early for this to show up in the ONS data, which runs only to November 13.

Any change in the long-term trend for infections could become clearer in future weeks.

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