As many as one in eight people in England had Covid-19 antibodies in December, meaning they had already had the virus, new data has revealed.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported the new figures on Tuesday, revealing that in Wales an estimated one in 10 had already had the virus, with one in 13 in Northern Ireland and one in 11 in Scotland showing antibodies for the virus.
Estimates drawn from a sample of 20,878 people reveal an average of 5.4m people – 12.1% of the population aged 16 years and over in England – would have tested positive for antibodies in December.
A further 2,000 people took part in the study across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where fewer people were found to have the antibodies.
The analysis carried out by the ONS is based on blood test results taken from a randomly selected sample of over-16s.
Experts have found that it takes two to three weeks for the body to make enough antibodies to fight the infection but once a person recovers, antibodies remain in the blood at low levels and can help protect individuals from getting the same infection again.
However, these antibody levels can decline over time to the point that tests can no longer detect them. Crucially, it is not yet known exactly how long they can remain detectable, meaning we cannot say based on this survey alone how many people have had coronavirus since it appeared in the UK.