With an increase in recorded cases of COVID-19, it is possible that the UK is going to be hit with a third wave of infections.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has been conducting an infection survey. Data on the level of infection is estimated based on the random collection of samples from a large number of households in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Based on the number of positive cases, i.e., the positivity rate, the ONS is able to estimate the prevalence of infection across the country. This data is collected every two weeks and provides an important surveillance strategy of how infection rates are changing.
The latest bulletin, which covers the week ending 29 May 2021, indicates that the proportion of people testing positive has increased. The ONS estimates that 0.16% of the population of England is likely to be infected with COVID-19 which equates to between 1 in 640 and 1 in 540 people, i.e., an average of 71,900, although the actual figure lies somewhere between 85,600 and 100,900. The previous bulletin estimated a prevalence in England of 1 in 1,120, indicating that there has been a 75% increase in cases. The data also suggest that the prevalence is increasing in Wales but there is some uncertainty for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Previous bulletins have indicated a regional variation in infection rates and this trend continues with the current bulletin. Increases have been observed in the North West, East Midlands , the South West and London, although there remains some uncertainty over other areas. There have also been increases in those aged 35 years and over, as well as among children in year 7 to 11.
Using genomic analysis, it seems that there is also an increase in the prevalence of variants of concern, in particular, the Delta variant, first identified in India. This mirrors data produced by Public Health England that shows that the number of cases of the Delta variant has increased to 12,431 as of 3 June 2021.
According to Jenny Harries, Chief Executive, UK Health Security Agency, “With this variant (Delta) now dominant across the UK, it remains vital that we continue to exercise caution particularly while we learn more about transmission and health impacts. The way to tackle variants is to use the same measures to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 we have used before. Work from home where you can, and practise hands, face, space, fresh air at all times. If you are eligible and have not already done so, please come forward to be vaccinated and make sure you get your second jab. It will save lives.“
Public Health England’s protection teams continue to work with local authorities and schools to carry out surveillance of COVID-19 cases in schools to understand and reduce transmission in these settings.