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April 25, 2022

Office for National Statistics estimates 38.5m people got infected between April 2020 and February 2022

At least seven out of 10 people in England have had Covid, according to new official statistics which are likely to be an underestimate.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) analysts estimate that 38.5million people got infected at some point between April 27, 2020, and February 11, 2022, the equivalent of 70.7 per cent. It is the first time an official figure has been put on the overall incidence of Covid, following fierce debate about that number throughout the pandemic.

Estimate based on more than 500,000 random PCR tests carried out on adults and children over two years

The ONS based its estimate on results from more than 500,000 adults and children across the UK over the last two years, who were randomly chosen and regularly PCR tested. Chief statistician Duncan Cook, of the ONS, said the finding 'is a valuable piece of the puzzle' in understanding Covid's impact on the country.

But the true number of people infected is likely to be even higher because the estimate does not cover the first surge of infections in spring 2020 and excludes this March and April, when cases hit record highs following the emergence of the BA.2 variant.

Reacting to the report, Professor Francis Balloux, an infectious disease expert at University College London, said he believes actual incidence is closer to 90 per cent. 

Meanwhile, ONS statisticians estimated 3.2million people were infected in the week ending April 16. The figure, based on swabs of 120,000 people, is down roughly 15 per cent in a week, suggesting the country's outbreak is still shrinking. The main ONS report also estimates 1.7million people in Wales have had Covid, or 56 per cent of the population, based on results between June 30, 2020, and February 11, 2022.

In Northern Ireland, the number was 1.3million, which is 72.2 per cent of the entire country, based on tests from July 27, 2020 and February 11, 2022.

The estimate for Scotland — 2.7million, or 51.5 per cent — is the least reliable because data only started to be collected on September 22, 2020. 

Results were based on 535,116 people across the UK who were randomly chosen after testing positive through the Government's central testing regime. Participants were aged two years, lived in private households and were regularly tested during the duration of their time in the study.

The ONS said the figures for each UK country are not directly comparable with each other because they refer to different time periods. Mr Cook, deputy director of the agency's weekly Covid Infection Survey, said: 'Today's release is a valuable piece of the puzzle for understanding the impact of the pandemic across the UK.

'This analysis would not be possible without the continued participation of the more than half a million people who've taken part over the past two years.

'We will continue to work closely with our academic partners to increase our understanding of COVID-19 and its impact on society.'