'The virus has taken off': Alarming study says 45,000 people get COVID every day in England

Emily Cleary
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - SEPTEMBER 26: Members of StandUpX, a community of people protesting vaccination and the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) measures, gather despite bans on bulk demonstrations due to the coronavirus, in London, United Kingdom on September 26, 2020. They attended a mass rally against wearing masks, taking test and government restrictions imposed to fight the spread of coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Hasan Esen/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
45,000 people are catching COVID every day in England, an 'alarming' study has reported, despite mass movements still casting skepticism on the scale of the virus (Hasan Esen/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The largest home testing study for coronavirus suggests that new infections have reached 45,000 every day in England.

An analysis of swab tests taken by 175,000 people between 18 September and 5 October found that one in every 170 tests was returning a positive result.

The research, led by Imperial College London, reports that 0.60% of the population, or 60 per 10,000, had the SARS-CoV-2 virus, compared to 0.13% in the previous round of testing.

Professor Paul Elliott, from the School of Public Health, and director of the REACT programme which conducted the research, said: “Our robust findings paint a concerning picture of the growing epidemic across England. While certain areas are worse affected, if left unabated then infection trends will follow nation-wide and could lead to high levels of unnecessary death and illness from the disease.”

On 21 September two of Boris Johnson’s top advisers warned the UK could see 49,000 new cases of coronavirus by mid-October unless action was taken to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty is seen walking alongside Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in London, Britain, September 9, 2020. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty (left) and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance (right) warned in September that the UK was at a "critical point" in the pandemic (REUTERS/Peter Nicholls)

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said such a scenario could see 200 daily deaths by November as hospitalisation figures increase, while England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said too little action risked the virus becoming “out of control”.

The pair said the UK was at a “critical point” in the pandemic.

Vallance told a Downing Street briefing: “At the moment we think the epidemic is doubling roughly every seven days.

“If, and that’s quite a big if, but if that continues unabated and this grows doubling every seven days... if that continued you would end up with something like 50,000 cases in the middle of October per day.

“50,000 cases per day would be expected to lead a month later, so the middle of November, say, to 200-plus deaths per day

“The challenge therefore is to make sure the doubling time does not stay at seven days.”

Watch: What is long COVID?

The REACT-5 research suggesting 45,000 cases per day came as the Office for National Statistics confirmed a huge leap in case numbers.

ONS figures, published Friday, suggested there were 224,400 people with COVID-19 between between 25 September and 1 October, the latest dates for which data is available.

This was nearly double the 116,600 people with COVID the week before, despite lockdown measures and the stark warnings from Valance and Whitty.

Professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, and University of Oxford, said: “The virus has not changed.

“The ONS survey is grim reading and in conjunction with the REACT-5 study alarming. The two surveys report rather different absolute numbers, there are methodological differences between them, but the message is crystal clear: the virus has taken off.

“Case numbers are rapidly increasing in the North of England, really only in the South East and East have numbers so far remained stable.

“The infections in the teen to 24 year group is spiralling. It is depressing and somewhat shaming to see how disadvantage and deprivation are such markers for infection.

“Scientists look at data, these data show as a country that we have failed to use the summer breathing space to defeat covid19. The numbers in Europe and USA are showing similar trends, we are not alone in this failure.

“Covid19 is an awful problem. I cannot forget the pain suffered by so many families in March and worry about its repetition.”

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