AROUND 4.5 million Brits are thought to have already had coronavirus, new figures suggest.
It comes as tests show 7 per cent of people in England have antibodies to Covid-19 – suggesting they have already had the bug.
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Around 54,000 people in England are infected with coronavirus each week, new figures showCredit: SWNS:South West News Service
The ONS Infection Survey offers a snapshot of infections over the period of May 11 to May 24.
The findings show that 6.78 per cent of 885 people who gave blood samples developed antibodies to the virus – that’s around one in 15 people – or 3,7 million in England or 4.5million across the UK.
As well as antibody tests, swab tests – that detect who currently has the virus – were carried out.
Swabs were taken from 18,913 people and found 0.24 per cent had coronavirus at the time of being tested, between May 11 and May 24 – that’s equivalent to 133,000 people nationwide.
There were around 54,000 new infections per week during this period – meaning the outbreak is still “relatively stable”, according to the ONS.
The figures only cover private households and don’t include those in hospitals, care homes or other institutional settings where infection rates are expected to be higher.
The findings also showed of those who tested positive for Covid-19 over the study period, 21 per cent reported suffering symptoms on the day of their test.
Peter Benton, from ONS, said it means there could be people who are infectious but do not know it, because they don’t have the tell-tale signs.
The study suggests that almost 80 per cent of people may have been asymptomatic, when tested.
But the experts who carried out the survey, which was released today, said that this is figure is likely to be closer to 70 per cent.
Prof Sarah Walker, from the Nuffield Department of Medicine at the University of Oxford, told reporters that this may be because people have recovered from symptoms by the time they are tested.
Speaking at a media briefing, she said: “We can detect the virus before people know, or it may be three or four days before, they had a cough but by the time they had a test the cough was gone.
“We feel the 30 per cent is a more reliable answer – not just at that time point but around it – 30 per cent had symptoms, so 70 per cent didn’t.”
Mr Benton added: “Therefore, social distancing continues to be important.
“What I have drawn from this is that I potentially could be positive and not know it and I don’t want to pass it on to someone else unknowingly.
“If I am asymptomatic and positive I may not be very infectious but I don’t want to take the chance.”
Based on the results of people tested since the start of the study, which began on April 26, the ONS estimates that there were 0.10 new infections per 100 people for one week.
This is equivalent to an average of 54,000 positive cases per week for people living in private-residential households in England.
The ONS said that the change in this figure compared with the results from the survey published last week is “relatively small”.
“It should be interpreted that the number of new infections in England is relatively stable,” the ONS said.
The ONS survey also found 6.78 per cent of 885 people tested had developed antibodies to the bug in their blood.
Prof Walker said tracking antibody levels through the ongoing study will help to give an idea of how long people might have these antibodies.
“We hope that the positive tests that we see in the study should translate into future antibody levels coming up,” she said.
“We will see antibody levels rise in those people who have had those swab tests and it will be very interesting and important to see how long these levels are raised for.
“Does that response carry on, is it the case that actually once you have had it you have some degree of immunity for a long period of time or do you have very transient immunity and it drops off?
“That could be one reason why you might be able to get it again.”
Scientists believe that while the presence of antibodies indicates a level of immunity, it is unclear whether people are completely protected and how long any immunity may last.
People were asked whether they had experienced a range of possible symptoms on the day they were tested.
Over the course of the study, almost three per cent who said they had experienced one or more symptoms of Covid-19 tested positive.
The percentage of people testing positive for Covid-19 was higher for those who reported specifically having a cough or fever, or loss of taste or smell on the day of testing than for any other symptom.
Of those reporting these specific symptoms, 6.74 per cent also tested positive for the bug.
This compares with an estimate of 0.38 per cent of those who did not have the three key coronavirus symptoms.
The ONS said it continues to find no evidence of differences in the proportions of men or women testing positive for Covid-19.
But it did find there were stark differences when it came to whether people were working at home or roles out in the community.
Patient-facing healthcare workers and resident-facing social care workers were found to have higher rates of positive tests than people not working in these roles.
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While those working outside the home had higher rates of positive tests than those who work from home, the data found.
It also revealed that while those who have symptoms are more likely to test positive than those without symptoms, out of those within the study who have ever tested positive for Covid-19, 21 per cent reported any symptoms on the day of testing.
The analysis was produced by the ONS in partnership with the University of Oxford, the University of Manchester, Public Health England and Wellcome Trust.
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