COVID cases explode

December 23, 2021

This article has not been updated recently

According to ZOE COVID Study incidence figures, in total there are currently 144,284 new daily symptomatic cases of COVID in the UK on average, based on PCR and LFT test data from up to three days ago [*]. An increase of 66% from 87,131 reported last week. A difference of 57,153 in a week is the largest jump in cases since March 2020, when the ZOE COVID Study launched (Graph 1). 

In the vaccinated population (at least two doses) there are currently 56,346 new daily symptomatic cases in the UK. An increase of 52% from 27,000 new daily cases reported last week (Graph 2). This is the steepest rise in cases in vaccinated individuals since the ZOE COVID Study began tracking cases in vaccinated individuals on the 8th December 2020. 

The ZOE COVID Study now estimates its UK incidence figures with a two day lag, making the data even closer to real time and helping ZOE track the Omicron outbreak in the UK. 

The UK R value is estimated to be around 1.2 and regional R values are; England, 1.2, Wales, 1.0, Scotland, 1.1 (Table 1). The R value in London is 1.5. 

In terms of prevalence, on average 1 in 45 people in the UK currently have symptomatic COVID. In the regions, England, 1 in 43. Wales, 1 in 47. Scotland, 1 in 67. (Table 1).

Cases are now rising in all the regions of the UK, most rapidly in London. Cases are also rising fast in the South East, East of England, and the North West. (Graph 4).

Cases have exploded in the 18-54 year olds. These groups have now overtaken the 0-17 year olds who had had the highest rates since July. Cases in 55-74 have seen an uptick in cases too, but cases remain low in the over 75s. (Graph 3).

According to new analysis, ZOE estimates that half of all people experiencing new cold-like symptoms are likely to have symptomatic COVID-19 and not just a harmless ‘cold’. This has been calculated by comparing the number of new cases of a cold-like illness to the number of new cases of confirmed COVID (Graph 5).

ZOE’s predicted Long COVID incidence rate currently estimates, at current case rates, 2,394 people a day will go on to experience symptoms for longer than 12 weeks, based on previous variants (Graph 6). It’s not yet clear if the rate of Long COVID incidence remains constant with the Omicron variant.

The ZOE COVID Study incidence figures (new symptomatic cases) are based on reports from around 840,000 weekly contributors and the proportion of newly symptomatic users who have received positive swab tests. The latest survey figures were based on data from 64,119 recent swab tests done in the two weeks up to 20th December 2021. 

Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist on the ZOE COVID Study app, comments on the latest data:
“The number of new symptomatic cases has exploded over the last week, making it the biggest jump in cases I’ve seen since we started the ZOE COVID Study. Whilst the figures paint a worrying picture, the good news is that our preliminary data, based on around 2,500 probable cases reported on the ZOE app suggests that Omicron is more mild that Delta. However, this highly transmissible variant will infect many more people before the year is out. To help us slow the spread, my advice continues to be; avoid gathering indoors, and, if you are meeting up with people, check everyone is free of cold symptoms, test yourself just before and get fully vaccinated.
Over the past few days, we saw self-isolation rules already causing havoc for our frontline workers, so I’m pleased to see that the Government has reduced the isolation period down to seven days. However, what continues to shock me is the misinformation in their latest stay at home guidance about the symptoms of COVID. ZOE data clearly shows that the most important symptoms are no longer, a new continuous cough, a high temperature or loss of taste or smell. For most people, an Omicron positive case will feel much more like the common cold, starting with a sore throat, runny nose and a headache. You only need to ask a friend who has recently tested positive to find this out. We need to change public messaging urgently to save lives as half of people with cold-like symptoms now have COVID.”

To ZOE COVID Study app can be downloaded here: 

The Government's latest stay at home guidance can be viewed: 

Graph 1. The ZOE COVID Study UK incidence figures total number of daily new cases over time.

Graph 2. The ZOE COVID Study UK incidence figures results over time; total number of new cases and new cases in fully vaccinated

Graph 3. Incidence by age group 

Graph 4. Prevalence rate by region

Graph 5. Comparison of new onset of cold-like illness and new onset of COVID with respiratory symptoms

Graph 6. Predicted Long COVID incidence over time

Please refer to the publication by Thompson at al. (2021) for details on how long covid rates in the population are modelled

Table 1. Incidence (daily new symptomatic cases)[*], R values and prevalence regional breakdown table 

Map of UK prevalence figures

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