Number of people in England with Covid-19 ‘up by three quarters’

The number of people who had Covid-19 in England has increased by around three quarters in a week, figures suggest.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that 85,600 people in England had the virus in the week to May 29 – equating to around one in 640 people in private households.

This is the highest level since the week to April 16 and is up from 48,500 people – one in 1,120 people in private households – in the week ending May 22.

Figures are still lower than they were earlier this year, with the ONS estimating that 1,122,000 people had Covid-19 in the week to January 2.

People testing positive for Covid-19 in private households in England
(PA Graphics)

Meanwhile, the latest Government figures show that the coronavirus reproduction number, or R value, in England is between 1 and 1.2 – up from between 1 and 1.1 last week.

R represents the average number of people each Covid-19 positive person goes on to infect.

When the figure is above 1, an outbreak can grow exponentially but when it is below 1, it means the epidemic is shrinking.

An R number between 1 and 1.2 means that, on average, every 10 people infected will infect between 10 and 12 other people.

The ONS said the percentage of people testing positive for Covid-19 is estimated to have increased in north-west England, the East Midlands and south-west England.

There are also signs of a possible increase in the West Midlands and London while the trend is uncertain for other regions, the ONS said.

In many regions positivity rates are very low, meaning trends are difficult to identify since they are affected by small changes in the number of people testing positive from week to week.

North-west England had the highest proportion of people of any region in England likely to test positive for coronavirus in the week to May 29: around one in 280.

South-east England had the lowest estimate: around one in 1,490.

The ONS said the percentage of people testing positive has increased in those aged 35 years and over and in school Year 7 to school Year 11 in England in the week ending May 29.

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Meanwhile, there are “early signs” of an increase in the percentage of people testing positive for coronavirus in Wales, with around one in 1,050 people estimated to have had Covid-19 in the week to May 29.

This is up from one in 3,850 in the previous week and is the highest estimate since the week to April 16.

In Northern Ireland the trend is “uncertain”, with an estimate of around one in 800 for the week to May 29, broadly unchanged from one in 820 in the previous week.

The trend is also “uncertain” for Scotland, where the latest estimate is around one in 680, broadly unchanged from one in 630.

All figures are for people in private households.

Professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, and University of Oxford, said: “Today’s ONS figures confirm what we had suspected would be true, the number of cases of Covid-19 is rising.

“There are two factors at play here, once is the easing of the lockdown measures in May and the second is the Delta variant (which has now become dominant).”

He said the trajectory of the case numbers in the North West are particularly worrying.

“It is worth pausing to remember that if it is as transmissible and severe as early data indicate the delta variant will devastate less developed countries.

“I am filled with dread and sorrow for what lies ahead.

“Common humanity means it is urgent that we support vaccination across the globe,” he said.

Prof Naismith added: “I do think we might dispense the opinions of those who so confidently opposed lockdowns in autumn, November and December and do so again without any recognition that had the Prime Minister followed their advice, tens of thousands more people would have died.

“Too many families have already faced terrible losses, much loved relatives dying alone and frightened, gasping for air.

“We may be able to open up on June 21 but we should look to the data (trends in case numbers, trends in hospital admissions, trends in vaccination coverage, knowledge about transmissibility and severity of the variant), not to those who consider so many other people’s lives so cheaply.”