The number of daily coronavirus infections in England could be almost four times higher than is currently being reported, according to the latest major study.
Over 85,000 volunteers were tested in England between October 16 and 25 as part of the REACT survey run by Imperial College London and Ipsos MORI.
Their report, published on Thursday, suggests there are 96,000 new infections per day – significantly higher than the 23,065 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the wider UK confirmed by the Department of Health on the same day, suggesting the government’s much-criticised test and trace system is only detecting around a quarter of people catching the virus.
The report also showed the coronavirus R rate in England has jumped to 1.6 and the number of infections is doubling every nine days.
The findings further show infections continue to rise across all age groups and all regions in England, with the biggest increase in those aged 55 to 64.
According to the survey, an average 1.28% of people during the 10 days of the study tested positive, up from 60 per 10,000 in the previous study. Taking into account the predicted 75% sensitivity of the tests, the authors estimate that at any time that means 960,000 people – 1.71% – in England are infected.
The highest number of infections, according to the report, remain in the north-west, Yorkshire and The Humber.
Professor Paul Elliott, director of the programme at Imperial from the School of Public Health, said the results “paint a concerning picture of the situation in England”.
“We’re seeing a nationwide increase in infection prevalence, which we know will lead to more hospitalisations and loss of life,” he said.
“We’re also detecting early signs that areas which previously had low rates of infection are following trends observed in the country’s worst-affected areas.”
The study states that 1.28% of the population is likely to test positive, which translates to 960,000 people on the basis that 75% of tests are likely to pick up a true positive.
Assum the virus on average can be detected for 10 days after initial infection, this corresponds to 96,000 new infections per day.
On Friday, the government estimated the R-rate to be between 1.2 and 1.4. But the REACT study, commissioned by the Department for Health and Social Care, found it was at 1.6.
The percentage of people infected aged 55 to 64 increased more than threefold from 0.37% to 1.2%, but infections remain highest in those aged 18 to 24 (2.2%).
It came as the government said a further 310 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Wednesday.
The government’s former chief scientific adviser, Professor Mark Walport, has also warned some 25,000 people could be in hospital with coronavirus by the end of next month if cases continue to rise.