Four out of five children in England aged 5-14 have had COVID-19, experts have said, as new figures suggest the number of infections across the country is running at around 60,000 a day.
Figures published by the University of Cambridge on Thursday suggest that 81% of children in that age range have been infected with coronavirus.
It also suggests that nearly half of babies (46%) under the age of one have had COVID.
According to the university’s MRC Biostatistics Unit, the 5-14 age group has the highest infection rates with the next highest being 15-24-year-olds, where 71% are believed to have been infected.
The rate is also high among one to four-year-olds, with 59% in that age range having been infected at some stage.
This compares with an infection rate of 26% among the over-75s and 25% among those aged 65 to 74.
Watch: NHS says jabs for children the 'best chance' of protection
The researchers said the daily infection rate across England is estimated to have fallen to 111 people per 100,000 population.
The North East and London are the areas with the highest attack rate, with almost six out of ten (59% and 58% respectively) of the population there being infected with COVID-19 at some point.
Lead researchers Professor Daniela De Angelis and Dr Paul Birrell said: “We estimate an epidemic with a declining national infection rate at around 111 per 100,000 population.
“This is the result of a decrease that we now believe to have begun prior to the half-term school holiday and accelerated by the school break.”
On Thursday, the government reported 42,408 daily COVID-19 cases, up from 39,329 on Wednesday and 33,117 on Tuesday.
Cases are still sky high in children and likely to rise more now that schools have re-opened. Is the govt going to continue to do nothing in the hope that most children will get infected, and 'herd immunity' will be achieved? This is a dangerous and deeply unethical strategy.
— Deepti Gurdasani (@dgurdasani1) November 11, 2021
Dr Deepti Gurdasani, senior lecturer in epidemiology at Queen Mary University of London, warned infections may not have peaked and that case numbers could increase as schools return after half term.
Dr Gurdasani has been a frequent and outspoken critic of the government's approach to mitigating the spread of the virus in schools, which she says is nowhere near stringent enough.
She tweeted: “Cases are still sky high in children and likely to rise more now that schools have re-opened.”
“Is the government going to continue to do nothing in the hope that most children will get infected, and 'herd immunity' will be achieved? This is a dangerous and deeply unethical strategy.”
In September, England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said that almost all unvaccinated children would get infected at some point.
"The great majority of children who have not currently had COVID are going to get it at some point," he said. "It won't necessarily be in the next two or three months but they will get it sooner or later because this is incredibly infectious and because immunity wanes, we're not going to see a situation where it just sort of stops at a certain point."
Dr Gurdasani also warned of the possible impact of Long COVID on children, saying: "Long COVID has shown massive increases in these age groups in every ONS report that's come out recently - from 53,000 in Oct to 69,000 in Nov.
"These numbers - long COVID & deaths - will continue to rise unless govt acts to protect children and families."
What's the latest?
According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), seven children and teenagers aged 0-19 died from COVID-19 in the week ending 29 October, the highest weekly death toll for this age group.
Of the seven who died, three were aged 15 to 19, two were 10 to 14, one was aged 1 to 4 and one was under 1.
According to the UK Health Security Agency, the COVID-19 case rate among 10 to 19-year-olds has fallen significantly from 1,388 per 100,000 people on 21 October to 561 per 100,000 on 11 November.
For 5 to 9-year-olds the rate is at 476 per 100,000, while among under-4s it is 158 per 100,000.
In the US, almost one million children aged 5 to 11 have had a COVID-19 vaccine after regulators approved the Pfizer/BioNTech jab for that age group at the end of last month.
However, England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said last week that vaccinating 5 to 11-year-olds is not a “big priority” like booster jabs and those who are not fully vaccinated.
Last month, Dr Zubaida Haque, a member of Independent Sage and deputy director of the Runnymede Trust, said the rate of infections among teenagers in England is “unacceptable”.
In July, a joint study from University College London and York, Bristol and Liverpool universities found that the overall risk of children becoming severely ill or dying from coronavirus was extremely low.
It found that 25 under-18s died from COVID-19 in the first 12 months of the pandemic.
In September, a study published by University College London found that up to one in seven children and young people who have COVID-19 may have symptoms related the virus 15 weeks later.
However, a study later that month from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) in Australia found that long COVID symptoms in children rarely lasted beyond 12 weeks.
Watch: 12 to 15 year olds in England now offered COVID jab