More than seven in 10 people in England have been infected with Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The estimate, the most detailed analysis to date, suggests 71% of people in England had caught Covid between 27 April 2020 and 11 February 2022. The proportion is likely to have risen further in the most recent Omicron wave, during which there was the highest prevalence at any time in the pandemic, including in older age groups that had previously had relatively low rates of infection.
Prof James Naismith, the director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute at the University of Oxford, said: “The total number of infected people was rising rapidly when the data stopped. The bottom line is the majority of people in the UK have had Covid-19.”
The analysis used a sample of 535,116 people who completed one or more tests as part of the UK coronavirus infection survey (CIS), which covers people over the age of two years living in private households.
Slightly lower proportions of the population were estimated to have been infected in Wales (56%) and Scotland (52%), but the figures are not directly comparable as the data covered a shorter time period, with Welsh data starting in June 2020 and Scotland in September 2020. In Northern Ireland, 72% of the population were estimated to have been infected.
Duncan Cook, the deputy director for the Covid-19 infection survey, said: “Today’s release is a valuable piece of the puzzle for understanding the impact of the pandemic across the UK.”
The analysis suggested that by October 2021, about one in three people in England had been infected and the proportion remained lower than a half until the emergence of the Omicron variant, which triggered a rapid rise in cases.
The proportions infected are likely to be even higher than the ONS estimates as in the most recent Covid wave, which coincided with the lifting of restrictions, there was a surge in the number of cases in the oldest age groups.
“In some regions of England today I would predict the portion of those who have had Covid-19 will easily exceed 80%,” said Naismith.
The findings come as the latest ONS survey shows Covid rates are continuing to fall across the UK, with about 3,218,700 people in England – one in 17 – having Covid in the week ending 16 April, down from about one in 15 the week before. Decreases were also seen in Wales (one in 15), Northern Ireland (one in 30) and Scotland (one in 19) and across all age groups.
“We continue to see a welcome decrease in infections across England, Northern Ireland and Scotland in today’s data. For the first time in several weeks, we are also seeing a decrease in Wales too,” said Cook.
“It’s encouraging to see that infections have decreased in all age groups across England. Despite the decrease in infections, it’s important to note that levels remain high. We continue to monitor these going forward.”
According to the latest government figures, the number of Covid patients in hospital and the number of weekly deaths linked to Covid is also falling in the UK.