The number of new coronavirus cases is now doubling every week in England as the virus threatens to spin out of control.
An official study for the government estimates Covid-19 took just 7.7 days to ‘double’ between August 22 and September 7.
The scientists behind the study even estimated the R rate has rocketed to 1.7 – in other words, between 1.4 and 2.0.
Downing Street and Health Secretary Matt Hancock seized on the report, saying it showed why they had to impose a new law banning gatherings over six people.
The study by Imperial College London and Ipsos MORI was based on testing more than 150,000 volunteers.
It is only the third of its kind since the outbreak began and looked at the spread of the virus in England.
It estimated 13 people were infected per 10,000, compared to just four people between 24 July and 11 August 2020.
It found infections were rising across all adult age groups under 65 but especially among the young – with one in 400 18- to 25-year-olds estimated to have the virus.
By comparison, just 0.04% of over-65s were estimated to have the virus. Infection is highest in Yorkshire and the Humber, the North East and the North West.
Professor Paul Elliott, Director of the programme at Imperial from the School of Public Health, said: “Our large and robust dataset clearly shows a concerning trend in coronavirus infections, where cases are growing quickly across England and are no longer concentrated in key workers.
“What we are seeing is evidence of an epidemic in the community and not a result of increased testing capacity.
“This is a critical time and it’s vital that the public, our health system and policy-makers are aware of the situation as we cannot afford complacency.”
The Imperial College study is one of a trio of damning official reports today which said coronavirus is surging in England.
In a second report, the official Government Office for Science said R is much lower than 1.7 but still above 1.
That means the virus is spreading exponentially – because R means the number of people who get infected by each person with Covid-19.
The government’s Office for Science said R is between 1.0 and 1.2 in both England and the wider UK.
It is highest in London and the North West where it is 1.1 to 1.3, the Office for Science said.
The official estimate of R is lower than Imperial College’s, because it takes several conflicting scientific reports into account and combines them all together.
R is or may be above 1 in every region of the UK, the government Office for Science said.
The third report was a worrying infection survey from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The ONS report estimated there were around 3,200 new cases per day in the community in England to September 5.
That’s up from 2,000 new cases per day the previous week.
Matt Hancock said the litany of figures explained why he was having to clamp down on family gatherings.
The Tory Health Secretary said: “We’ve seen all across the world how a rise in cases, initially among younger people, leads to hospitalisations and fatalities.
“The pandemic is not over, and everyone has a role to play to keep the virus at bay and avoid another further restrictions.
“It’s so important that everyone abides by the law and socialise in groups up to six, make space between you and those outside your household, get a test and self-isolate if you develop symptoms and wash your hands regularly.
“It is vital you engage with NHS Test and Trace service if contacted to provide details of your close contacts and self-isolate if you are asked to do so.”