Covid infection rates across UK remain at or near record levels

ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan reports on how some schools are introducing enhanced measures to protect staff and children from coronavirus

Covid-19 infections remain at or near record levels in the UK, with an estimated 1.1 million infected people in England in the last week of October.

Around one in 50 people in private households in England had the coronavirus in the week to October 30, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The figure was unchanged from the previous week.

It is the same proportion of people who were estimated to be infected at the peak of the second wave in early January and the highest level of infections recorded by the ONS since July 2020.

Separate figures from the government - which show the number people who tested positive for the virus - suggest the number of new cases has decreased slightly over the past fortnight.

Authorities reported 34,029 more positive tests in the latest 24-hour period - a decrease from the last two days when more than 37,000 new cases were reported in a day.

And there were 193 more Covid deaths. Since Tuesday, the number of daily reported coronavirus deaths had exceeded 200.

How the ONS' Covid infection rates compare across the UK

In Wales, around one in 40 people are estimated to have Covid-19 last week, also unchanged from the previous week and the highest proportion since ONS estimates began.

In Scotland, the figure is estimated to be one in 80 – down slightly from one in 75 the previous week, and below September’s peak of one in 45.

In Northern Ireland, the ONS estimates one in 65 people had the virus - up from one in 75 the previous week but slightly below the record of one in 40 estimated in mid-August.

The estimates are for people in private households, which do not include hospitals, care homes and other similar settings.

The ONS said the longer-term trend in England, Scotland and Wales is “uncertain”.

Meanwhile, the proportion of people testing positive in Northern Ireland has “continued to increase”.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

The ONS figures are estimates of the percentage of people who are likely to test positive for the virus at any one point in time and are based on a sample of swab tests collected from UK households. It helps provide a snapshot of the prevalence of Covid in the UK.

Who is getting Covid?

According to data modelling by the ONS, infection rates have increased in the week to October 30 for those from school year 12 to age 24 and for those aged 50 to 69.

Meanwhile, rates have decreased for those in school years 7 to 11 - although the percentage of people testing positive in this age group remains high, at 7.5%.

The latest figures provide “some reassurance” that infections in England may have peaked, Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said.

He said: “Because this report presents prevalence, and people often remain positive for more than a week after becoming infected, it will always look like data here are falling more slowly than seen in daily case reports.

“Of particular interest is the decline in children in school years seven to 11. Estimated prevalence in this group peaked on October 21 and so started falling before most schools broke up for half-term, which would give hope that cases in this age group may not start to increase again now that schools are back.

“We will have to wait another one or possibly two weeks before we can be certain.”

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said “well in excess of a million people” were infected with coronavirus last week, “many of whom will have been walking around in their daily lives, spreading the disease without realising it before developing symptoms, or without being affected at all”.

He added: “It is too early to know if this will be the peak of the latest wave of infections or just a temporary week to week reduction.

“The slightly lower numbers overall are likely due to a reduction in cases among children, which may be an impact of the autumn half-term school holiday, and the rising numbers of vaccinated teenagers.

“It is concerning that infection levels in older people could be on the rise. This may be a result of waning immunity, which would emphasise the importance of the current booster jab campaign.”