Covid: England reaches 'critical stage' in second wave with estimated 96,000 new infections per day

Video report by ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan

England has reached a "critical stage" in the Covid second wave, with researchers estimating around 96,000 new infections per day in mid-October.

Data from the REACT-1 study shows the prevalence of coronavirus infection in England between 16 and 25 October has more than doubled compared to the previous weeks.

One in every 80 people in England is now expected to have the virus, a rise from one in every 170 people estimated from data between 18 September and 5 October.

What are the key findings from the study?

The grim figures show few signs of improving too, with Imperial College London professors warning current measures are "not sufficient".

The experts warned that there has to be change before Christmas, and if more stringent measures are to be implemented, it needs to be "sooner rather than later".

Emily Morgan breaks down what the survey means

Quizzed by ITV News on what researchers mean by the warning England is at a "critical stage," Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London, said: "There's a large number of infections already happened that are going to feed through in the next few weeks to hospitalisations".

He added: "The fact that it's not quite as bad as March shouldn't be that much comfort because it is still increasing and that's the key thing and it's increasing quite quickly."

Prof Riley said it was not up to him to say what further restrictions should be introduced.

The state of the nation's R numbers

The expert told ITV News the Tier system has "not worked up to this point".

Prof Riley said the current data does not capture the recent Tier 3 measures, but he warned: "These don't tell us that Tier 3 is't working, what they tell us is perhaps the overall approach - of using the minimal possible intervention in the smallest possible area - just seems to be a little bit behind the epidemic."

He pointed to "consistent growth" in the epidemic, despite the restrictions.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing calls to announce whether Covid restrictions will still be in place at Christmas. Credit: PA

Prof Riley said: "There has to be a change. The rate of growth that we’re seeing and in these data is really quite rapid, so one way or another there has to be a change before Christmas."

Analysis by statistics expert Prof. Jennifer Rogers for ITV News shows the prevalence of infection was accompanied by an increase in how quickly the number of new infections is growing - the growth rate.

Researchers found the number of new infections was doubling every nine days - a stark contrast to results from the previous weeks of data which suggested it was taking 29 days for infections to double.

Greater Manchester is currently in Tier 3 restrictions meaning pubs not serving substantial meals have to close. Credit: PA

Previous data loads from the survey had suggested Covid infections were growing fastest in the north of the country - the latest results suggest this is no longer the case.

Indeed the North East and the North West were the only areas in England to see their R number fall from the previous set of results.

Researchers say they are detecting early signs that areas with previously low rates of infection, illustrated by the R number, are following trends observed in the country's worst-affected regions.

Passengers wearing masks on London Underground. Credit: PA

The capital saw the biggest turnaround.

In the previous finding London was the only region to have an estimated R number of less than one. Now it has the highest estimated R number across the country, standing at 2.86.

While the South East, East of England, and the South West all have estimated R numbers greater than two.

Nationally researchers suggest the R number is now estimated to be 1.56 compared with 1.16 in the previous results.

The prevalence of infection remains highest in the 18-24 age group, but this figure has not grown between the two sets of data.

A coronavirus advice sign in Sheffield city centre. Credit: PA

Worryingly the biggest increase in prevalence of the virus was in the 55-64 age group where now one in every 83 is expected to have coronavirus.

Breaking down the relationship between levels of the virus and rates of deprivation in each area, the data suggests further evidence of a link between the two.

The most deprived areas in England saw a prevalence rate of one in every 46 people expected to have Covid, while that dropped to one in every 103 in the least deprived areas.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told ITV News the government was "determined to continue to have a proportionate localised approach" to restrictions, despite the rising number of cases.

The minister said case loads were "much more concentrated" in some areas of England and so the government was not pursuing "a blanket national lockdown," though he added measures are kept under review.

Labour meanwhile has called for the PM to hold a government briefing to address the findings published on Thursday.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance. Credit: Number 10

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the data shows "how serious the situation" is across the country.

He added: "This will inevitably lead to more loss of life, more serious harm, immense pressure on the NHS and a slow, damaging drag on the economy.

"Boris Johnson must hold a press conference later today to update the nation and outline what steps he will now take to get control of the virus and save lives."

The REACT-1 study was commissioned by Department of Health and Social Care (DoH) and carried out by a world-class team of scientists, clinicians and researchers at Imperial College London, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Ipsos Mori.

The data is released as a pre-print and has not been peer-reviewed.