The number of people currently infected with coronavirus is “frighteningly high”, but if vaccines can be rolled out rapidly the nation can look forward to an “optimistic future”, experts have said.
An estimated 1.1 million people in private households in England – the equivalent of around 2.06% of the population, or one in 50 people – had Covid-19 between December 27 and January 2, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, described the figures as “frighteningly high”, adding that for comparison, ONS data from June showed that infection numbers were around one in 4,000.
He said: “If we also highlight the huge numbers of confirmed daily cases, the fact that there’s more people in hospital now with Covid-19 than at any state of the pandemic, and that almost any graph you look at is on a steep upward trajectory, then the UK is clearly not in a good place right now.”
He added that although the UK passing 100,000 Covid-19 deaths in the “relatively near future” is “inevitable”, the rollout of the vaccines allows for some optimism.
“There is an optimistic future, with the rollout of the vaccine programme,” he said. “The issue is that before we get to the point when we can all relax a little bit, there will be some grim times ahead.”
Virologist Professor Lawrence Young warned the Government needs to focus on rolling out second coronavirus jabs, not just the first, to curb the “alarming rise in infections” which is being “fuelled by the new coronavirus variant”.
Prof Young, at Warwick Medical School, said the Prime Minister “did not discuss the need for the second dose of the vaccine” to be rolled out during his press conference on Tuesday, or whether testing capacity would be increased during the lockdown.
Professor Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at The Open University, said some hospitals are already “pretty full” and he does not expect admissions to ease for “another two to three weeks” following the start of the new lockdown.
The ONS estimates came as the Government recorded 60,916 daily cases as of 9am on Tuesday.
New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) scientist Professor Robert Dingwall cautioned that although this signalled cases topping 60,000 for the first time, this is partly due to the rise in demand for tests over Christmas.
Prof Dingwall, a leading medical sociologist who advises the Government, said: “The data continue to be quite unstable from the holiday period and it may take another few days before we have a clear picture.”
The figures from the ONS Covid-19 infection survey represent a rise from 800,900 people, or one in 70, who were estimated to have Covid-19 in the period December 17 to 23.
This does not include people staying in hospitals, care homes or other institutional settings.
In London, an estimated one in 30 people in private households had Covid-19 between December 27 and January 2, the ONS said.
The figure for south-east England, eastern England and north-west England is estimated to be one in 45; for the East Midlands it is one in 50; for north-east England – one in 60; and for the West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber – one in 65.
For south-west England the estimate is one in 135.