Coronavirus infections double in a fortnight but ‘growth may be slowing’

Coronavirus infections double in a fortnight but ‘growth may be slowing’

The number of new daily coronavirus cases across England has doubled in a fortnight but the rate of growth may be slowing down, data suggests.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) infection survey estimates there was an average of 35,200 new cases per day of Covid-19 in the community in England between October 10 and 16.

This is up 26% from an estimated 27,900 new cases per day for the period from October 2 to 8 and just over double the 17,200 new cases per day from September 25 to October 1.

The ONS said the rate of new infections “has continued to increase” in recent weeks though one expert suggested the growth may have slowed down.

Covid-19 growth rates
(PA Graphics)

According to the ONS, an estimated 433,300 people in England had coronavirus during the most recent week, equating to around one in 130 people.

It said: “There has been growth in Covid-19 infection rates in all age groups over the past two weeks including those aged over 70, with the current rates highest in older teenagers and young adults.

“The highest Covid-19 infection rates continue to be seen in the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, and the North East.”

Professor James Naismith, from the University of Oxford, said the most recent figures – looking at the increase from 27,900 to 35,200 cases per day – suggest the rate of growth of the epidemic may be slowing down.

He told the PA news agency: “Comparing the average number of infections per day measured by ONS for the week ending Oct 9 and the week ending Oct 16 suggests that the doubling time might have increased to three weeks.

“If so, and I emphasise there are uncertainties, this is a hopeful sign that the rate of increase is slowing down.”

He said the figures were “hopeful” but added that it was “too early to draw firm conclusions”.

“Testing identified less than half the people who got infected in the week ending October 14.

“This is a disease which is asymptomatic for the majority and rapidly spread. It is very hard to track and trace.”

However, Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, said it was not clear cut that growth was slowing.

He said: “There isn’t much in it in the way of good news.

“The estimate of the number of people in the whole English community population that would test positive for the virus has continued to increase, still with no clear sign that the rate of increase is slowing.”

“But here I’m really grasping at straws for a bit of good news – the evidence for any slowing is statistically very weak, if it’s there at all, and in any case, we’re still talking about an increasing number of infections, that is doubling every two weeks or less.”

It comes as the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises the Government, said the reproduction number, or R value, of coronavirus transmission for the whole of the UK has nudged down to between 1.2 and 1.4.

Last week, the group said the R number was between 1.3 and 1.5.

Sage said there “is still widespread growth of the epidemic across the country”.

According to the ONS data, 16,700 people in Wales were estimated to have had Covid-19 in the most recent week, equating to one in 180 people.

This compares to around one in 100 people in Northern Ireland and one in 180 in Scotland.

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

“Within England, whilst young adults and older teenagers continue to have the highest levels of infections, there are increases in all age groups including the over 70.”

The ONS noted small reductions in the percentage of people testing positive for antibodies, which it said “could suggest evidence of antibody waning at the population level”.

However it said it was “too early to say this with certainty” and more work would be carried out.

In England, an estimated 5.6% of people have tested positive for antibodies against Covid-19 in a blood test in September.

Separate data from the Covid Symptom study app suggests there were more than 36,000 new daily cases in the UK over the two weeks to 18 October – up from nearly 28,000 the previous week.

The figures are based on app users logging their symptoms and whether they have had a positive test result.

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