The number of people in England with coronavirus last week remained higher than one million, official figures have revealed.
During the week ending 23 January - the latest date for which data is available - the Office for National Statistics estimates that 1,018,700 people in England were infected with COVID-19. This equates to one in every 55 people, the same estimate as the previous week.
In London, the area with the highest percentage of people testing positive, one in every 35 people is thought to have been infected.
Infection rates appear to have levelled off in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, according to the report, but the new variant of the virus is gaining pace in the East Midlands.
The report says: “The percentage of cases that are compatible with the new variant increased in the East Midlands in the week ending 23 January; rates were relatively stable or declining in all other regions.”
Professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute at the University of Oxford, said that today’s release from ONS was “not good news”.
“Whilst cases are clearly down from their peak over the last two weeks the decline may have stopped,” he said. “Next week will confirm this.
“The prevalence of infection rates remain 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.”
It comes at the end of a challenging week for the prime minister, who gave a sombre press conference on Tuesday in which he said he was “deeply sorry” after the UK death rate hit 100,000 coronavirus cases.
Watch: Over 100,000 people have died with coronavirus in the UK
The ONS figures are produced in partnership with the University of Oxford and based on data collected from private households.
The website states that the data cannot be used for ‘measuring the number of cases and infections in care homes, hospitals and/or other institutional settings’.
Government data for the same period suggests that overall the number of infections in England is dropping. These figures are published using results from all laboratory and lateral flow tests processed, including those from care homes and hospitals.
The UK has seen all schools, hospitality venues and non-essential shops closed since 4 January, and people ordered to stay at home. Restrictions in in England last officially until at least 15 February however, the prime minister’s announcement on Tuesday that schools will not be considered for reopening until 8 March means these measures will stay in force for at least three weeks longer.
The UK has the fifth highest COVID death toll in the world and, according to the latest figures, is where 1 in 7 of all COVID deaths in Europe have taken place.
The government has also been at pains to stress that restrictions will be lifted gradually, meaning it could be well into the second half of the year before many of the rules are relaxed.
Prof Kevin McConway, Emeritus Professor of Applied Statistics, The Open University, said: “The news isn’t particularly encouraging, though it could be worse.”
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