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14 May 2020updated 29 Jul 2021 2:50pm

Covid-19 cases may be seven times higher than previously thought, ONS testing suggests

By Nicu Calcea

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) believes 148,000 people may have had coronavirus at some time in the past fortnight, a number nearly seven times higher than official figures.

Provisional results from the ONS’s Coronavirus Infection Survey for England, which tests a random sample of the population, found that 33 people out of 5,276 households had the virus between 27 April and 10 May.

When adjusted for age, sex, region and household type, the figure suggests that 0.27 per cent of the general population, or 148,000 people, may have had the disease during the two weeks. The government’s official tally of cases picked up 21,341 cases during that period.

The relatively small sample size – the programme only tested 10,705 people – means the true number of infections could be significantly higher or lower than the ONS estimate. The ONS calculated there was a 95 per cent chance that between 94,000 and 222,000 had Covid-19 during the fortnight.

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The study found those working in healthcare or care homes had a higher probability of infection, with around 1.33 per cent testing positive for Covid-19. The survey didn’t find any evidence that age was a factor in catching the virus.

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These figures are part of a larger survey conducted by the ONS and its partner organisations, including the University of Oxford, the University of Manchester, Public Health England and the Wellcome Trust. The survey will continue to grow in scope, providing an increasingly precise picture of how many people have had the virus.