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Infection rate soars, but number could be much higher

This article is over 3 years, 9 months old
Issue 2719
Coronavirus testing
Coronavirus testing (Pic: Flickr/Governor Tom Wolf)

In a dangerous new sign of spreading infection, the numbers of people testing positive for the coronavirus in hospitals rose by more than a third last week.

These “pillar 1” results, announced last Thursday, are collected only from people in NHS settings rather than in the wider community.

It is likely that many people ­testing positive in hospital are ­seeking medical attention because they are suffering more severe Covid-19 symptoms than those isolating at home.

Until recently, the weekly increase in infections had not resulted in any upswing in the numbers of people hospitalised—and England’s death toll has plateaued at a much lower rate than at the height of the pandemic in the spring.

It was widely assumed that this was because those getting the disease were younger and fitter than many of those who are most badly affected.

Tories plough ahead with unsafe return to schools
Tories plough ahead with unsafe return to schools
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But the new figures suggest that increased “community spread” of the disease is now reaching those who are more vulnerable—including older people, and those with serious medical conditions.

Professor Paul Hunter from the University of East Anglia, said, “The fact that positive diagnoses have risen at a time when the number of tests are remaining fairly static does suggest that the incidence of Covid-19 in the community is now beginning to rise again.

“The additional sharp rise in pillar 1 tests being positive in particular supports this assumption.”

The news of a growing number of infections in hospitals was compounded by pillar two community testing which showed 27 percent week on week rise.

This increase came despite a 2 percent drop in the number of people being tested.

The government’s emergency Sage committee announced on Friday that its estimate for R, the reproduction number of the virus, had risen to between 0.9 and 1.1. The R figure represents the number of people each Covid-19 positive person goes on to infect.

While the R number varies across England, it is clear there are several hotspots where transmission of the virus has resulted in a growth in the number of infections.

The north west and south west of England appear to be badly affected, and there are many other town and city-wide trouble spots.

Recent NHS Test and Trace figures show in the country’s 20 worst-hit areas, Serco and Sitel—paid £200 million between them— reached only 54 percent of people who had been in close proximity to an infected person. That means more than 21,000 exposed people were not contacted.

In Bradford, 42 percent of exposed people were reached, with 3,691 of those potentially infected not traced.

These new figures show the dangerous complacency of the government’s drive to get everybody back to school and work next month—and the continuing farce of the system of contact tracing the Tories told us would be “world beating”.

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