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One in eight in England had had COVID-19 by December, new data shows

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Travellers walk towards the Covid-19 testing centre at Heathrow Airport in London, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021.
Travellers walk towards the Covid-19 testing centre at Heathrow Airport in London, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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An estimated one in eight people in England had had COVID-19 by December, the country's statistics agency said on Tuesday.

According to the Office for National Statistics's (ONS) latest COVID Infection Survey, by the end of 2020, 12.7 per cent of the population in England would have tested positive for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 from a blood sample.

This equates to one in eight people over the age of 16.

Testing positive for antibodies means an individual has had COVID in the past. Antibodies are generated by the body to fight an infection and remain in the blood at low levels for some time after the person recovers.

People in the northern Yorkshire region and in London were more likely to have contracted the disease with the rate rising to over 16 per cent.

Conversely though, people living elsewhere in the UK were less likely to have been infected, with the rate dropping to an estimated one in 13 in Northern Ireland, one in 11 people in Scotland and one in 10 in Wales.

To make its estimates, the ONS's Infection Survey currently tracks 150,000 people across the UK, among whom 10 per cent of those over the age of 16 were asked to provide a blood sample to test for the presence of COVID-19 antibodies.

England is currently under a third national lockdown following the emergence in December of a variant which is up to 70 per cent transmissible and which has led to the number of infections and deaths to soar.

The UK is Europe's worst-hit country with nearly 90,000 lives lost to COVID-19. It recorded its highest one-day death toll since the beginning of the pandemic on January 13 with 1,564 deaths recorded.

Data from the ONS also released on Tuesday shows that the number of deaths registered in the first week of the year was 45.8 per cent above the five-year average across England and Wales. The statistics agency notes however that this figure should be treated with caution because of potential registration delays from the end-of-year festive season.

It added that over a third — 34.1 per cent — of deaths registered in the first week of the year mentioned "novel coronavirus".

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in a press briefing from Downing Street on Monday evening that "the data show that we are getting this under control" and urged everyone to follow lockdown rules.

He announced on Tuesday that he is now self-isolating until Sunday after being alerted by the country's COVID-19 app that he had been in contact with an infected person.

"This self-isolation is perhaps the most important part of all the social distancing" to "break the chain of transmission", he said in a video message posted on Twitter.

More than 4 million people in the UK have now received a first dose of the vaccine, including more than half of those over 80 and half of elderly care home residents," Hancock said on Monday.