United Kingdom

Expert warns Covid infection drop could be down to people avoiding tests over self-isolation fears

The fall in Covid infections could be down to people avoiding getting tested so they don't have to self-isolate, a SAGE expert has warned.

Robert West, a member of the behavioural advisory group, said Government messaging may have inadvertently given people a 'green light' that Covid isn't that bad and that people may be avoiding the disruption of self-isolation.

Prof West, who is also a health psychology professor, told Radio 4's Today programme that young people may also be less motivated to get tested because their symptoms are not as severe.

It comes amid mounting confusion over the rate of infection across the UK as there is a discrepancy between official figures and survey data from bodies including the Office of National Statistics.

Pictured: Robert West, a member of the behavioural advisory group, said Government messaging may have given people a 'green light' that Covid isn't bad so they don't need tests

Britain’s daily Covid cases fell again yesterday for the ninth day in a row, amid mounting confusion over true state of the third wave. Department of Health bosses posted 29,622 cases — down 18.6 per cent on last week.

But the ONS, which carries out tens of thousands of random swab tests every week, estimated one in 65 people were carrying the virus on any given day in the seven-day spell ending July 24 — the equivalent of 856,200 positive cases. 

Experts have said the drop in official figures could be down to a multitude of factors - including fewer people coming forward to get tested because of the 'pingdemic' chaos and fears of having to self-isolate.

Prof West told Today: 'I think one of the things that is a concern is that people may not be coming forward as they used to do for testing and one of the reasons for that I think may be that the messaging from the Government in a way has given them a sort of a green light to people to say well actually it's not so bad if you get the infection and so if you go and get tested you have to self-isolate at least at the moment and that's going to be very disruptive so I suspect that that may be a factor.

There is mounting confusion over the rate of infection across the UK as there is a discrepancy between official figures and survey data from bodies including the Office of National Statistics

'The messaging, I hope inadvertently, coming from the Government around the idea that we've broken the link between infections and hospitalisation and death which obviously then that gets sort of tracked back a bit because it's not broken, it's weakened but it's not broken. I think all that kind of messaging is a factor.

'Also I think because it is the case that a lot more younger people are being infected now who just by virtue of their age the severity of the symptoms and hospitalisation is much lower so the motivation to get tested will be less.

'What I think we need to do is get back on track with some really clear messaging around that as with the vaccinations.'

The Department of Health data shows that hospital admissions in England have been falling for the last four days in a row.

Admissions fell 11 per cent week-on-week, down from 783 on July 21 to 728 on July 28.

New cases are still declining across the UK, but the number of tests taken has dropped 14.3 per cent in the last seven day, which could impact numbers.

Both the deaths and hospitalisation figures reported today are 6.3 per cent higher than they were seven days earlier. 

Meanwhile, 42,410 more first vaccine doses were dished out, while 180,155 people became fully immunised against Covid.

This means 88.4 per cent of adults in the UK have had one dose, while 71.8 per cent are double jabbed.

Yesterday, Professor Paul Hunter, an expert in public health at the University of East Anglia, said: 'The decline in case numbers as reported by the DHSC today do not conflict with the report from ONS from earlier in the day as one would not expect to see any impact of the recent decline in the ONS figures till next Friday.' 

While cases are continuing to rise across England in ONS's data, the 15 per cent increase spotted by its random-test survey marks a slow down on the previous projection (28 per cent).

The Government agency's estimate yesterday was based on swabs of more than 100,000 people in private homes across the country. 

It does not include tests in hospitals or care homes, so only provides a rough assessment of how widespread the disease is among the community.

The ONS estimates the North East is still the hardest hit, with 3.2 per cent of people there testing positive for the virus.

It is followed by the North West (2.1 per cent), the West Midlands (1.9 per cent), London (1.7 per cent) and the East Midlands (1.7 per cent).

Covid positivity rates were lowest in the East and the South West (both 1 per cent). 

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