80% of COVID cases in London and eastern England are now from new variant, data shows

Emily Cleary
·3-min read
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a virtual press conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, inside 10 Downing Street in central London on January 7, 2021. - Hospital chiefs in England raced to secure hospital beds on Thursday as the surge in coronavirus cases risked overwhelming the system, healthcare providers and medics said. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / various sources / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson announced a third nationwide lockdown for England on Monday evening, in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus infections (Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)

Up to 80% of new cases of coronavirus in London and eastern England are the new variant of coronavirus, data published on Friday has revealed.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) infection survey found there were 1,122,000 people with COVID-19 at any one time between between 27 December 2020 to 2 January in England.

London had the highest proportion of people testing positive during that time, with an estimated 3.56% infected with COVID-19, equating to around 1 in 30 people.

A taxi drives past temporarily closed shops and theatres on a near-deserted Strand in London, England, on January 7, 2021. England began a third national coronavirus lockdown earlier this week amid authorities' concern that the National Health Service (NHS) could soon be overwhelmed with covid-19 sufferers. Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced today that 1.5m people across the UK have now received at least a first dose of a covid-19 vaccine, with plans for hundreds of thousands of vaccinations to administered every day from the middle of this month, with military assistance. (Photo by David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A taxi drives past temporarily closed shops and theatres on a near-deserted Strand in London on Thursday as England reaches the end of its first week of a third nationwide lockdown (David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The data reveals the extent of the spread of the new COVID-19 variant, which is estimated to be up to 70% more transmissible.

In London, 81% of positive cases from December 28 to January 2 were estimated to be genetically compatible with the new variant, while in eastern England the estimate is 78%.

Two other regions had estimates above 50%: south-east England (67%) and south-west England (53%).

For England as a whole, the ONS estimated 61% of new cases could be the new variant. All figures are for people in private households.

The data comes at the end of week one of England’s third nationwide lockdown, which has seen schools close and people advised not to leave their homes except for a limited number of reasons including essential shoppingand medical appointments.

The rapidly spreading new variant of COVID-19 may mean the lockdown will still fail to get the R rate below one, scientists have warned.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has warned the new variant could increase R by between 0.4 and 0.7.

Thursday was the second deadliest day in the pandemic so far, with 1,162 new deaths reported, beaten only by the 1,224 recorded on April 21.

In a separate report, the ONS revealed that England and Wales recorded more deaths in 2020 than any year since the end of the First World War.

The two countries saw more than 604,000 deaths last year as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, amounting to roughly 73,000 more than the five-year average, according to senior statistician Nick Stripe.

Earlier in the week, chief medical officer Chris Whitty warned a “very large number” of people were becoming infected with COVID-19 and that deaths will continue to rise in the coming weeks.

Whitty told a Downing Street press conference on Tuesday that (ONS) estimates suggested that the second lockdown had been successful in bringing down infection rates.

But using five other charts, he warned that the pandemic had reached a worrying stage in the UK where one in 50 people have the virus.

“One in 50 is really quite a large number indeed,” he said.

The total number of deaths from COVID-19 in all four nations of the UK, recorded by the government as of Wednesday, now stands at 77,346.

Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown