Hundreds of thousands of people who have caught the virus are not being counted each week.
18 March 2022
The gap between the UK’s official Covid-19 figures and the likely true number of people becoming infected with the virus has widened dramatically, new analysis shows.
An average of 34,500 cases of coronavirus per day were being recorded at the end of February, according to the Government’s Covid-19 dashboard.
But the true total was likely to be more than seven times this figure, at 251,500 a day, according to estimates published on Friday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The gap has increased from mid-February, when the estimate was five times the dashboard average, while at the end of January it was three and a half times the size.
The Government figures have always under-represented the true level of coronavirus in the country, because they only count people who have reported themselves as having tested positive.
This means they are affected by how many people are taking tests and choosing to report the results.
But the growing size of the gap between the two totals shows just how many people are being missed from the official tally.
Professor Kevin McConway of the Open University said there was now a “major discrepancy” between the dashboard numbers and the ONS estimates, which are published each Friday in the weekly infection survey.
“The most obvious explanation is that people just aren’t being tested as much as they were, so the dashboard isn’t picking up new infections in the same way that it did,” he added.
“The indications are that the trends on the dashboard may well not be representing what’s actually going on.
“This discrepancy is a very important reason why it’s important to continue with the infection survey.”
The ONS figures are based on nose and throat swabs taken regularly from a representative sample of tens of thousands of people in private households, regardless of whether they know they have Covid-19 or have reported a positive result.
In doing this, the ONS is able to produce estimates of the true number of people who are being infected with coronavirus each day across the country.
Analysis by the PA news agency of the latest ONS data shows that around 1.5 million new Covid-19 infections are likely to have been missed from the official dashboard count for the week to February 26.
This is up from an estimated 1.3 million missed in the previous week.
At the peak of the recent Omicron wave of the virus, in the week ending January 1, nearly half a million people in the UK are likely to have been infected with Covid-19 every day – far higher than the 189,800 a day in the Government figures.
The latest available ONS estimates, for February 20-26, have only just been published due to the time needed to collect and process the data.