The number of people catching the coronavirus every day in England more than doubled in the last week of September to 17,400, according to a government-run surveillance study.
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) warns 224,400 people had the virus in the week leading up to October 1, up from 116,000 a week earlier. This week’s figure is the highest since records started in May.
It comes as one MP warned the virus is ‘out of control’ now in the UK and the Government has not made any new announcements this week on how it intends to halt the resurgence of Britain’s second wave.
Today’s report, made using data from the two weeks up until to October 1, warns ‘the number of infections has increased rapidly in recent weeks’, and official tests show cases continued to rise in the first week of October meaning next week’s estimate will likely be higher again.
Cases remain far lower than they were in March and April, however – scientists predict that more than 100,000 people were catching Covid-19 every day at the peak of the outbreak. Today’s estimate is less than 20 per cent as high.
There is now a ‘clear variation’ across different regions of the country, the ONS said, with the highest rates of infection in the North West, North East and Yorkshire. More than one per cent of the population in those regions – one in every 100 people – were likely infected at the start of this month.
Teenagers and young adults, between the ages of 11 and 25, continue to drive up the disturbing rates of infection.
If the estimate is accurate it suggests the Department of Health’s testing programme is now picking up most of the true number of cases, with it managing to diagnose 11,000 people on October 1 – 63 per cent of the ONS’s new cases prediction.
It follows a week of increasingly worrying data showing that hospital admissions are surging in the North, where they could surpass levels seen in April by the end of the month, and daily deaths are creeping back up again.
Today’s ONS report estimates that 0.41 per cent of England’s population had coronavirus in the week ending October 1 – equal to one in every 240 people.
A week earlier the estimate was just 0.21 per cent and today’s update said: ‘There has been a marked increase in the incidence rate over the last six weeks.’
The report is based on a series of 167,332 swab tests done on random people across the country – regardless of whether they feel ill or not – over a period of two weeks. 588 people tested positive. Historical comparisons are made using tests from six weeks before October 1, which included 356,000 tests and 820 positives.
The data adds to evidence that England is in the grip of a second wave, with infections doubling in a week and R rates higher than one in every region of the country.
But the resurgence of Covid-19 is being led by only half the country, with regions in the North accounting for a majority of new infections and hospital admissions.
The ONS’s report shows that the rate of infection is highest in the North East, where it is around one per cent, and in Yorkshire and the Humber and the North West, where it is 0.9 per cent.
This means around one in 100 people are carrying the disease. In the East, South East and South West, however, fewer than 0.25 per cent of people have the illness – less than one in 400.
Because of this divide the Northern regions are expected to face tougher lockdown rules from next week, which are slated to include the closure of pubs and restaurants, or at the least see opening hours slashed.
Gillian Keegan, Conservative MP for Chichester and minister for apprenticeships and skills, told the BBC’s Question Time programme last night that two thirds of hospitalisations are happening in the North West and North East of England, as well as in Yorkshire.
She said: ‘This is serious, it is getting out of control and we have to do something to bring it back under control.’
Her stark admission came amid reports that experts on the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) fear Mr Johnson’s planned tier system does not go far enough.
According to the Guardian members of SAGE believe the planned closure of pubs and restaurants in hotspot areas will not be sufficient to get the virus under control and avoid a second wave.
Some believe ministers should have pulled the trigger on a nationwide ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown in England two or three weeks ago when it was first discussed.
A breakdown of the data by age group shows that young people are still fuelling the fire of this wave of Covid-19, with rates among teenagers and twenty-somethings significantly higher than in older age groups.
This mirrors actual positive test data collected by Public Health England and chimes with reports that infection rates are considerably higher in areas with universities and large numbers of outbreaks are linked to education establishments.
The ONS shows that the rate of infection is highest – by a considerable margin – among people aged 17 to 24.
In its ‘School Year 12 to Age 24’ group, 1.53 per cent of people were estimated to be Covid positive by October 1. This includes sixth form, college and university students as well as others who are in work or apprenticeships.
The rate was considerably higher than in any other age group, with 0.48 per cent the next highest incidence in 11 to 16-year-olds: ‘School Year 7 to School Year 11’.
It was then similar across younger children and working-age adults, between 0.22 and 0.28 per cent, before dropping to the lowest rate of 0.18 per cent among over-70s.
The age data is a ray of hope in the worrying statistics because the lowest infection rate is in the most vulnerable group. Over-70s are by far the most likely to die if they catch coronavirus but they currently appear to be catching it least often.
Scientists and politicians will, however, be concerned that the longer the virus is allowed to circulate in such large numbers among younger age groups, the more opportunity it will get to leak into the vulnerable groups and to send hospital rates and deaths surging.
This already appears to be happening in the North of England, where officials warn that hospital admissions could hit the peak levels seen in March and April by the end of this month if more action isn’t taken to stop the spread.
INFECTIONS ‘UP TO SEVEN TIMES HIGHER’ IN STUDENT AREAS
Coronavirus outbreaks in student areas are significantly worse than in other parts of the country and in one part of Manchester one in 20 people are currently carrying the disease.
Local positive test data shows that per-person infection rates of Covid-19 are up to seven times higher than in the worst affected towns and cities overall, and up to 45 times higher than the England average.
Known for living in large households, mixing with strangers and having very active social lives, students create arguably the ideal environment for a Covid-19 outbreak.
But their age means that many of them will not experience symptoms of the illness, even fewer will get seriously ill and almost none will die.
However, their huge communities can fuel outbreaks in areas that are already badly affected and make it more likely that vulnerable local people will be exposed to the illness.
Data shows in Fallowfield in Manchester – a thriving student suburb of the city – five per cent of people tested positive for the disease in the week ending October 2
Data analysed by The Times show in Fallowfield in Manchester – a thriving student suburb of the city – five per cent of people tested positive for the disease in the week ending October 2.
This is equivalent to a weekly coronavirus infection rate of almost 5,000 cases for every 100,000 people. A per-100,000 rate is the standard way of measuring Covid-19 infections, although Fallowfield’s population is only around 15,000 people.
This rate dwarfs that of the hotspot when entire council areas are taken into account – Nottingham has the highest whole-area rate with 689 cases per 100,000.
The Times‘s analysis shows that, in the seven days ending October 2, there were 18 student areas where more than one per cent of the population had tested positive for Covid-19.
Student areas were defined as those where more than half of the areas within it were described as predominantly student areas in the 2011 Census.
And the numbers of positive tests were compared to the population in the area.
While Nottingham, the worst affected city according to test results analysed by the Press Association, has the highest rate of any local authority at around 0.06 per cent of the population infected, rates were considerably higher in university boroughs.
One of Nottingham’s own student districts – named University Park, Lenton Abbey & Jubilee Campus – was the second worst affected area behind Fallowfield.
There, 451 people tested positive in the week up to October 2, indicating four per cent of the population was diagnosed.