14.06.2024

Infection rates rising ‘primarily’ in affluent areas

The ONS used the Index of Multiple Deprivation, which combines an individual’s income, employment, housing and other indicators, to group those who had tested positive into five quintiles.

Coronavirus infection rates have been increasing primarily in the most affluent areas of England, new analysis shows, suggesting that “younger, wealthier” groups are driving the recent spike in cases.

Between 23 July and 10 September, the number of people who tested positive for Covid-19 is estimated to have been highest among those living in the least deprived areas of the country, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Analysis was based on statistical modelling and drew exclusively from private household infections data.

The modelling showed that the positivity rate for those in the fifth quintile, the least deprived, was roughly double that for the first quintile, the most deprived.

Over the same timeframe, infections were shown to have risen among individuals aged under 35 years, regardless of deprivation.

In those aged 35 years and over, increases in positivity rates only occurred in the less deprived areas.

ONS analysis also concluded that there has been a “marked increase” in positivity rates among white individuals aged under 35 years, and noted that infections have been higher for people who recently travelled abroad.

It added that there was no evidence to suggest working location is driving the greater increase in positivity rate in younger age groups in recent weeks.

The findings suggest that interactions among middle-class groups have helped fuel the emerging second wave seen across the UK.

Responding to the latest ONS survey, Dr Daniel Lawson, a senior lecturer in Statistical Science at the University of Bristol, said: “These results robustly show rising infection rates are focussed on a subset of the population, younger, wealthier, white people.

“Whilst current infections are highest in this demographic, historical infection rates from antibody tests show that black and Asian people have also been widely infected earlier in the pandemic.

“The current increase associates with number of social contacts and international travel.

“This all fits a picture that, on average, younger, wealthier, white people had more social contacts over the summer.  This survey period included the relaxation of restrictions in pubs and restaurants, where the population was encouraged to spend whilst meeting in public venues.”

Previous ONS data showed those in the most deprived parts of the country had been hit hardest by the pandemic.

Analysis in July revealed that the poorest areas of England had recorded more than twice as many deaths from coronavirus as the richest.

In the first six months of the pandemic, the mortality rate was 139.6 per 100,000 in England’s most deprived areas – compared with 63.4 deaths in the most prosperous.

The pattern was similar in Wales, but slightly less marked, at 119.1 deaths per 100,000 people in the poorest areas, against 63.5 in the richest.

London recorded the highest mortality rate, with 141.8 deaths involving Covid-19 per 100,000 residents – 30 per cent higher than the northwest, the next worst region.

Earlier this summer, separate research from Public Health England concluded that ethnic minorities are at higher risk of dying from Covid-19 or suffering severe illness. The report was widely criticised for not providing recommendations for at-risk groups.

The latest findings from the ONS also showed that socially-distanced meet-ups among young people appear to be an increasingly important factor in contracting coronavirus.

Covid-19 test positivity rates have increased for people under 35 who had socially-distanced contact with at least six people aged between 18 and 69 over the previous week, ONS said.

There was no evidence of increases in positive test results for older adults.

ONS concluded that “having had socially-distanced direct contact with a larger number of people appears to be an increasingly important factor in increasing positivity rates in the younger age groups”.

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