Around seven in 10 people in England are likely to have had coronavirus since the early months of the pandemic, new figures suggest.
An estimated 38.5 million people in private households, or 70.7% of the population, have had at least one infection since the end of April 2020.
The figures have been compiled by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) using data from its long-running Covid-19 infection survey.
The survey began in England on April 27 2020, which means the estimates do not cover most of the initial wave of the virus that began in early March.
But it is the first time an attempt has been made to calculate the cumulative number of people who have had Covid-19 over much of the pandemic.
The ONS figures run up to February 11 2022, so do not include people who have been infected for the first time in recent weeks.
Professor James Naismith of the University of Oxford said the figures provided a “valuable piece of data” but warned the number of infected people was “rising rapidly” at the end of the survey period.
“In some regions of England today I would predict the portion of those who have had Covid-19 will easily exceed 80%,” he added.
Separate estimates have been published for the other three UK nations, each of which covers a different time period according to when the infection survey began.
Since the survey began in England, an estimated 38.5 million people (or 70.7% of the population) had COVID-19 between 27 April 2020 and 11 February 2022 https://t.co/ByxOe93QVT pic.twitter.com/q37Im2gW83
— Office for National Statistics (ONS) (@ONS) April 22, 2022
In Wales, 1.7 million people – or 56.0% of the population – are likely to have had Covid-19 between June 30 2020 and February 11 2022.
In Scotland, 2.7 million people (51.5% of the population) had the virus between September 22 2020 and February 11 this year.
And in Northern Ireland, 1.3 million people, the equivalent of 72.2% of the population, are estimated to have had Covid-19 between July 27 2020 and February 11 2022.
All figures are for people in private households and do not include those in hospitals, care homes and other communal establishments.
The data also shows how each wave of the virus has pushed up the cumulative number of people to have been infected.
By the start of the second wave in September 2020, the proportion of the population in England to have had Covid-19 since April 27 was still very low, at just under 2%.
As the second wave took off, this jumped to 10% by mid-December and 15% by mid-January 2021.
The figure then rose slowly, reaching 25% in early August and 40% by the end of November.
But once the Omicron wave began, the rate of the increase quickened sharply, with the proportion reaching 50% by late December, 60% by mid-January 2022 and 70% by early February.
“We have endured a massive wave with Omicron, which is only now slowly subsiding,” Professor Naismith said.
“The six-month period to February 2022 saw a more than doubling in the percentage infected, compared to the 20-month spell from April 2020 to October 2021.
“Another way to say this is the majority of the most vulnerable people in the UK were infected after they had protection from vaccination.
“As a result of the vaccines, the Omicron infection was significantly less severe for the vaccinated individual.”
The ONS Covid-19 infection survey is the most reliable measure of the prevalence of coronavirus across the country and of how many people have been infected at least once.
It is a nationally representative survey that tests a large sample of people each month.
The same people are retested, regardless of whether they have symptoms, which means the survey can identify both infections and reinfections as well as asymptomatic cases.