One in five people in England who took PCR tests in the run up to Christmas turned out to have Covid, putting the positivity rate at the highest level on record.
The latest UK Covid dashboard figures show 19.5% of people who took a PCR test in the week to 22 December got at least one positive result.
In London, the epicentre of the Omicron spread, one in four people (24.9%) tested positive. One of the city’s boroughs, Barking and Dagenham, saw the rate reach more than 30%.
Duplicate results for people who took more than one test are not counted.
England’s figure is the highest rate since 1 May 2020 when comparable records began, surpassing the previous peak of 18.3% last January.
While the rate was higher before 1 May, Public Health England has said the figures then were not comparable as mass testing for the general public had not been fully rolled out.
It comes amid reports government officials are weighing up a return to the ‘rule of six’ in the new year for social mixing, as cases continue to soar across the country.
The positivity rate has climbed rapidly since the start of December, when it was at 9.6%.
The rate is used to measure the true scale of infection, as an overall increase in cases could be caused by more tests being carried out.
An increase in testing would also return a proportionately higher number of negative results if the virus was not running rampant in communities. A high positivity rate indicates widespread infection.
Previously the World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that a positivity rate of 5% is the threshold for determining if a pandemic is under control.
England has not been below this level since 27 June. Every council area had a higher rate at the latest count.
The 5% benchmark was set long before effective vaccines were developed.
At that point WHO advised that policymakers should only consider lifting restrictions if the rate was below this point for two weeks. It has not stated whether vaccines affect the benchmark.
London had the highest positivity rate across England in the week to 22 December, at 24.9%.The North West followed at 20.9%. The lowest rate was in the North East, where it was 13.8%.
Barking and Dagenham saw the highest rate at 30.4%. Of the 20 councils with the highest rates, 14 were in the capital.
The 20 areas with the highest rates are:
- Barking and Dagenham, London – 30.4%
- Bexley, London – 29.1%
- Havering, London – 29.1%
- Lewisham, London – 29.1%
- Greenwich, London – 28.6%
- Thurrock, Essex – 28.6%
- Broxbourne, Hertfordshire – 28.3%
- Newham, London – 28%
- Croydon, London – 27.9%
- Dartford, Kent – 27.6%
- Southwark, London – 27.3%
- Lambeth, London – 27.2%
- Bromley, London – 27%
- Haringey, London – 26.9%
- Tameside, Manchester – 26.9%
- Sutton, London – 26.6%
- Gedling, Nottinghamshire – 26.4%
- Hackney and City of London, London – 26.4%
- Tower Hamlets, London – 26.3%
- Nottingham, East Midlands – 26.2%
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