THE question has been plaguing minds since the outbreak of COVID-19: how many people are actually infected?

Knowledge of the number is needed to grasp the scope of the pandemic, inform public policies and save lives.

But while Spain’s government has come under criticism for possessing incorrect coronavirus figures, a new study from Spain’s leading institution on computer science has suggested the actual figure in Spain is currently between 1.9 to 2.8 million infections.

The Universitat Polytecnica de Catalunya report calculated that confirmed diagnoses in Spain were less than 10% of the likely figure, based on evidence from South Korea.

The mathematical modelling begins as follows:

  • COVID-19’s mortality rate was 1% in South Korea, considered to be the country with the most accurate figures worldwide.
  • It takes 18 days to die of coronavirus.
  • Therefore, today’s death toll of 605 would indicate that roughly 18 days ago 60,500 became infected.
  • However, on March 24, only 4,517 were confirmed new coronavirus cases – or just 7% of 60,400.

Further calculations pushed the crack team of scientists to estimate current infections in the millions.

The researchers write it is a ‘positive scenario’, as it means millions of people have also acquired immunity without requiring hospitalisation.

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A graph from the report from the Universitat Polytecnica de Catalunya published on Wednesday.

Not everyone who catches coronavirus will present severe symptoms – and many will be asymptomatic.

The scientists therefore urge the government to test a ‘significant portion’ of the public for antibodies to the coronavirus.

“We consider it to be the only proper method of assessing the actual incidence over time and take the next policy steps with reliable data on the real level of immunity of the population,” they write.

It comes as Spain’s government has announced a ‘gradual’ return to normality from April 26, determined by analysis of COVID-19 statistics.

It will be testing 30,000 homes – or 62,400 people – across the country to map COVID-19’s progression on a national and regional basis, according to government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero on Tuesday.

The tests will particularly look out for people with no COVID-19 symptoms but with significant antibodies in the blood – report El Mundo.

Imperial College London also published an important study last week suggesting 15% of Spain’s population was already infected – or 7 million people.

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The report from the Universitat Polytecnica de Catalunya also suggested nearly 2 million were currently infected in the UK, in the higher tier of estimations. Across Europe, estimated infections are at 10 million.

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