According to the largest Covid-19 study of its kind, coronavirus cases are doubling in the North West, Yorkshire and the West Midlands about twice as fast as all of England.
Experts behind the React study said the epidemic’s rate of growth across England had slowed over the last month, but the country was now at a “critical point in the second wave”.
They warned that current measures such as the rule of six and restrictions in the north of England would not be enough to bring the epidemic under control.
They said “further fixed-duration measures should be considered to lower the infection rate and limit hospital admissions and deaths from Covid-19”.
The report looked at Covid-19 swabs from 174,949 volunteers tested across England between September 18 and Monday this week.
Cases in England have been found to double every 29 days, much more slowly than the estimated 13 days for the period from mid-August to early September, resulting in a national reproduction rate (the R number) of 1.16.
At the regional level, the team’s estimated cases are doubling much faster – every 17 days in the North West, 13 days in Yorkshire and Humber, and 14 days in the West Midlands.
However, they said the doubling time could only be seven days in Yorkshire and the West Midlands and every nine days in the northwest.
Around one in 170 people across England is currently suffering from the virus and there are about 45,000 new infections every day, the report said.
It pointed to the “high prevalence” of Covid-19 across England and said the prevalence had increased in all age groups, including those at the highest risk.
The highest prevalence of the virus is among 18- to 24-year-olds, but the prevalence among those 65 and over has increased eight-fold from mid-August to early September to 0.33%, the report said.
It was also found that at least half of people with Covid-19 also showed no symptoms on the day of the test or the week before.
The experts concluded: “Improved compliance with existing guidelines and, if necessary, additional measures are needed to control the spread of (coronavirus) in the community and limit the number of hospital admissions and deaths from Covid-19.”
The report put the R-value at 1.27 in the Northwest, 1.37 in Yorkshire and Humber and 1.33 in the West Midlands.
For London, the team estimated an R-value of 0.97 and suggested that the high number of cases in the first wave could have an impact on the capital.
Professors Steven Riley and Paul Elliott from Imperial College London led the study, which was attended by colleagues from the University of Oxford and Lancaster University.
Prof. Riley said there was evidence of “sustained growth and possibly rapid growth” in regions such as the North West, Yorkshire and the West Midlands, but the key message across England was that “prevalence is high”.
He added: “The prevalence will continue to rise unless either news compliance improves or additional measures are put in place with public support.
“There is a very strong epidemiological argument for trying to reduce transmission now.”
Prof. Riley said previous exposure of people in London to the virus could contribute to its lower R-rate.
He said that some level of immunity “will have some effect, but it is not clear to what extent”, adding that “on average across London the overall level of immunity is quite low”.
When asked by reporters how far England was from the peak of the pandemic earlier in the year, Prof. Riley said, “If things don’t change and the patterns we have described persist, we will be back to comparable results in a relatively short time return prevalences in some parts of the country. “
He said the data supported further restrictions in the north of England “sooner rather than later”.
Professor Elliott said the combination of the current restrictions, including the rule of six, “may have some effect, but not enough to make the virus reject it”.
The report comes from separate data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). It is estimated that 224,400 people in England had coronavirus between September 25 and October 1, which is roughly one in 240 people.
Katherine Kent, co-lead analysis for the Covid-19 Infection Survey, said: “We saw another remarkable increase in the number of people testing positive for Covid-19 across England in this week’s numbers.”
Additional data from the Covid Symptom Study (CSS) app operated by King’s College suggests that there are currently an average of 21,903 new symptomatic cases of Covid per day in the UK.
His data suggests more than five times more cases in the north than in the south of England.