UK COVID-19 Update: Infection Rates Stay High, Latest R Numbers

Peter Russell

August 13, 2021

These are the UK coronavirus stories you need to know about today.

Positive COVID Tests 'Remain High'

The percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 continued to be high in the week ending August 6, official figures showed.

The Office for National Statistics said that:

  • In England, 726,700 people within the community population were estimated to have COVID-19, equating to around 1 in 75 people

  • In Wales, the trend was uncertain, with 14,100 people estimated to have COVID, equating to around 1 in 220 people

  • Scotland experienced a decrease in positive rates, with 28,100 people testing positive, equating to around 1 in 190 people

  • The percentage of people testing positive in Northern Ireland continued to be high, with an estimate of 34,400 people, equating to around 1 in 55 people

Commenting on the latest figures for the Science Media Centre, Prof James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute at the University of Oxford, predicted a "fourth wave" in infections coinciding with the end of lockdown restrictions and the start of the new school year.

"I know that any significant rise in cases will lead to more 'long COVID-19' and increase the pressure on the NHS," he said.

Prof Naismith also called for more effort to persuade 'vaccine hesitant' individuals to accept a jab.

Latest figures showed that the R value in England was between 0.8 to 1.0, with a growth rate of -4% to 0%. The UK Health Security Agency said the figures suggested that the number of new infections could be broadly flat.

In Scotland, the R number was estimated at between 0.7 and 0.9 up until August 9.

Hospital Infections

New research found that 11.3% of COVID patients in 314 UK hospitals became infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus after admission for other treatment during the first wave of the pandemic.

The study, published in The Lancet , also found that the proportion of COVID-19 patients infected in hospital rose to at least 15.8% by mid-May last year.

The researchers found striking differences in infection rates between different types of hospitals. Those providing acute and general care had infection rates of 9.7%, compared with 61·9 seen in residential community care hospitals, and 67.5% in mental health hospitals.

The reason for the disparity needed urgent investigation, the study authors said, to identify and promote best infection control techniques.

The researchers based their conclusions on COVID-19 patients in UK hospitals enrolled in the International Severe Acute Respiratory and emerging Infections Consortium (ISARIC) Clinical Characterisation Protocol UK (CCP-UK) study.

The authors said: "We estimate between 5699 and 11,862 patients admitted in the first wave were infected during their stay in hospital. This is, unfortunately, likely to be an underestimate, as we did not include patients who may have been infected but discharged before they could be diagnosed."

Dr Jonathan Read, senior lecturer in biostatistics at Lancaster University, who led the investigation, said "Controlling viruses like SARS-CoV-2 … has been difficult in the past, so the situation could have been much worse. However, infection control should remain a priority in hospitals and care facilities."

Co-author Dr Chris Green from the University of Birmingham added: "There are likely to be a number of reasons why many patients were infected in these care settings.

"These include the large numbers of patients admitted to hospitals with limited facilities for case isolation, limited access to rapid and reliable diagnostic testing in the early stages of the outbreak, the challenges around access to and best use of PPE, our understanding of when patients are most infectious in their illness, some misclassification of cases due to presentation with atypical symptoms, and an under-appreciation of the role of airborne transmission."

Social Distancing Trends

Fewer British adults said they were now social distancing, according to the latest official figures.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that 49% always or often maintained social distancing in the week ending August 8 compared with 53% in the previous week.

The proportion of adults in England, Scotland, and Wales who said they wore face coverings outside home fell slightly from 92% to 90%.

The proportion of adults meeting up indoors with someone not in their household in the past 7 days increased slightly from 62% to 64%. However, the proportion of adults meeting up outdoors with someone not in their household in the past seven days decreased in the latest survey.

According to the ONS, 27% of British adults thought it would take more than a year for life to return to normal after pandemic restrictions

The ONS said that positive sentiment to receiving a COVID vaccine remained high, with 97% of adults in favour, compared with 96% previously.

'Ping' Survey

Only 2.4% of fully vaccinated people in England and Wales who were 'pinged' by the NHS COVID app or the Protect Scotland app, but who were asymptomatic, went on to test positive for the disease, a survey found.

However, those who were pinged, and also reported having one or more of around 21 possible symptoms, were almost 12 times more likely to test positive, results from a recent analysis by the Zoe Covid Study app found.

More than 750,000 subscribers to the app responded for the survey in July.

Results showed that those who reported being pinged by the NHS COVID-19 app in England and Wales were around four times more likely to have COVID-19 than someone who was not sent an alert.

However, participants who got pinged by the Protect Scotland app were around 10 times more likely to have COVID-19 than someone who was not. The results suggested that the Scottish app was doing a better job of identifying positive cases than its English and Welsh equivalent, scientists said.

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London, and lead scientist of the ZOE app study, has repeatedly called for health authorities to expand the list of COVID symptoms, which he says no longer accurately reflects what people who contract SARS-CoV-2 experience.

The so-called 'classic three' symptoms of fever, cough, and anosmia may have been replaced with headaches, runny nose, sore throat, and chest pain, he has argued.

He called on the Government to "help raise public awareness of the full range of symptoms of infection".

In Other News


  • Children born during the COVID pandemic have significantly reduced verbal, motor, and overall cognitive performance compared with children born before, preliminary results of a US study suggested. The preprint study, led by Brown University, found that lockdown restrictions had interfered with early cognitive development as nurseries closed and parents were left stretched between childcare and work.


  • Almost a third of young people aged 18 to 29 in England have yet to receive a first dose of a COVID vaccine, figures showed. The latest data from Public Health England and the University of Cambridge estimated that 70.2% in this age bracket had received a first dose and 32.4% had received both doses. England's Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: "Having both doses of the vaccine will also help you get back to doing the things you love, such as going on holiday and enjoying nightclubs."


  • The Northern Ireland Executive has agreed to end the requirement for fully vaccinated people to self-isolate if they have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. The restriction on the number of people who can gather outdoors will also be removed from August 16, while class 'bubbles' will no longer be required from the start of the autumn term.

See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.


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