Half of colds are actually Covid, warn experts

Half of all people who currently have colds will actually have Covid, experts have warned. 

Coronavirus infections in the UK have reached record levels, with 1.4 million people estimated to have had the virus last week, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

This is the highest number since comparable figures began in autumn 2020 and is being driven by the more transmittbale Omicron variant.

According to new analysis, published today, the ZOE Covid study 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, it added.

Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist on the ZOE Covid Study app, said public messaging needed to change ‘urgently’ to acknowledge for many people Covid symptoms will feel more like a common cold.

He said: ‘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.’

Prof Spector said to slow the spread of Omicron the public should avoid socialising indoors, check people they are meeting are free of cold symptoms, test before meeting up, and get fully vaccinated.

He added: ‘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.’

The ZOE Covid study said that cases have ‘exploded’ in the 18 to 54 age groups, which have overtaken 0 to 17-year-olds who have had the highest rates since July.

The study estimates that on average one in 45 people in the UK currently have symptomatic Covid, increasing to one in 43 in England.

In Wales, it was one in 47, and one in 67 in Scotland, it added.

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