Coronavirus infections appear to have levelled off across the UK, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). An estimated one in 55 people in private households in England had Covid-19 between January 17 and 23, broadly unchanged on the previous estimates for the period January 10 to 16.
Meanwhile, in Wales, around one in 70 people had Covid-19, also unchanged from the previous estimate.
The figure for Northern Ireland was around one in 50, up slightly from one in 60, while the estimate for Scotland was broadly unchanged, down slightly from around one in 100 people to one in 110.
The ONS said the percentage of people testing positive in England “remains high”, with more than one million people infected in the most recent week’s data.
London continues to have the highest percentage of people testing positive, with around one in 35 people infected.
Sarah Crofts, senior statistician for the ONS Covid-19 Infection Survey, said: “In England rates are level but remain high, with the estimated level of infection still over one million people.
“Infection rates across Wales and Scotland have remained level and in Northern Ireland rates of infection have begun to level off.
“The percentage of positive tests compatible with the new (UK) variant of the virus has increased in the East Midlands.
“Across other regions rates remained relatively stable or are declining.”
The ONS data is based on swabs taken from people in households, regardless of whether they have symptoms or not.
It does not include care homes, hospitals and other institutional settings.
In England, the estimates for the latest six-week period are based on 501,255 swab tests.
It came as the latest figures released by the Government showed the reproduction number (R) of coronavirus to be between 0.7 and 1.1 across the UK.
R represents the average number of people each Covid-positive person goes on to infect.
When the figure is above 1, it means the outbreak is growing, but when it falls below 1, it means the outbreak is shrinking.
Professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, described the ONS figures as “not good news”.
He said: “Whilst cases are clearly down from their peak, (also seen in hospital admissions) over the last two weeks, the decline may have stopped – next week will confirm this – the prevalence of infection rates remains high and this will translate to a high number of deaths in the weeks ahead.
“The new variant has, as we feared, proven very difficult to suppress with UK lockdown measures.
“With over 100,000 dead, I realise the certainty of thousands more deaths is bleak news.
“Families and friends will have paid an awful price for the failure to suppress the virus.”
Prof Naismith said data from the ONS echoes the findings from the React study published on Thursday, which showed nearly one in 60 people had the virus between January 6 and January 22.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge predict that the number of deaths occurring daily is likely to be between 550 and 1,040 on February 10 2021.
The Medical Research Council (MRC) Biostatistics Unit Covid-19 Working Group said the current estimate of the daily number of new infections occurring across England is 86,000.
According to the researchers, the probability of R exceeding 1 is 83% and 79% in the North West and South West respectively, 69% in the North East, 55% in Yorkshire and Humber, 30% in the East Midlands, 26% in the West Midlands and lower than 10% in London, the South East and East of England.
The researchers say that due to the recency of the lockdown, its estimated impact is highly volatile and, with a high likelihood, could change over the coming week.
They say that combined with the conflicting signals from the two primary data streams (over a number of weeks the deaths continue to increase while prevalence declines), this gives a reduced confidence in their outputs this week.