The UK is nowhere near the level of immunity needed to prevent a second wave of coronavirus, a scientist has warned.
Dr Lilith Whittles, a postdoctoral researcher in infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial College London, said at a COVID-19 webinar the UK is far off the level of population immunity needed to prevent a second wave.
In a worst-case scenario, a second wave could cause a peak of a similar size to the first.
A study by Imperial College London published today estimated that around 3.4 million people in England, around 6% of the population, have had coronavirus.
The 3.4 million figure in the study is many times higher than the tally of known cases for the entire UK as posted by Johns Hopkins University in the US – whose aggregated numbers have become the main global reference for monitoring the disease.
The university lists case numbers in the UK at 315,546.
Professor Graham Cooke, who led the research said the numbers are still “relatively small” as a proportion of the country’s population, and show that a complete relaxation of lockdown would see a resurgence of the virus.
Fears of a second wave have been on the rise as cases across Europe have been creeping up in recent weeks with several places in the UK being put into local lockdown.
London was found to have the highest rate of infection in the UK, at 13%, while the south-west had the lowest, at 3%.
The findings were commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care as part of the government’s wider goals to learn more about COVID-19.
The study looked at antibody test results from 109,076 participants in England, one of the largest of its kind in the world.
Researchers also found that among key workers, 12% of healthcare workers and 16% of people who worked in care homes had antibodies, compared to 5% in the rest of the population.
Black, Asian, and minority ethnic people were three times as likely to have had the virus than the rest of the population, the study found.
Volunteers in the most deprived areas of the country were slightly more likely to have antibodies than those in the wealthiest areas, at 7% compared with 5%.
One of the biggest indicators of whether someone carried antibodies was how many people they lived with.
Those in households of more than six or seven people (12% and 13%) were more likely to have had COVID-19 than those in single or two-person households (5%).
The authors of the study emphasised there was no firm evidence that the presence of COVID-19 antibodies made you immune from the disease.
Quick test and trace systems have been key to the global strategy for controlling the virus.
Figures released today said the government’s contract tracing call centres had reached only 60% of those who’ve interacted with someone who has COVID-19.
The number raised to 74.2% when regional contract tracing teams were factored in.
The study comes as the UK revised down its death toll from the virus by more than 5,000, from 46,706 to 41,329.
The revision was made after the government realised it was recording anyone who had died and tested positive for COVID-19 as dying from the disease, even if the cause was something else.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases globally topped 20 million this week, with the death toll worldwide rising above 750,000.