Covid: Supermarkets have been shown to be the place where visitors and workers are most likely to be exposed to coronavirus in PHE data

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Supermarkets are the most common exposure setting for those who catch coronavirus in England, new data reveal.Figures compiled by Public Health England (PHE) using the NHS The Test and Trace app showed that supermarkets were the location most often reported by people who tested positive for Covid-19.

Of those who tested positive for Covid-19 between November 9 and 15, 1,796 (18.3%) said they had visited a supermarket.

A view of toilet paper on the shelves of a Kent supermarket in September 2020. Credit: Pennsylvania

Secondary schools came second with 1,240 people testing positive between November 9 and 15 after their visit.

By analyzing the contacts and tracing the footsteps of the 128,808 people who said they tested positive between November 9 and 15, PHE discovered where transmission is likely to occur.

During England’s lockdown that began on November 5, supermarkets remained open to buyers. The new data set suggests that they are now the primary medium for disease transmission.

Approximately 9,789 common places were reported in total, with the percentage of the most common types of environment shown below.


Proportion of all common locations reported in PHE data:

  • Supermarket – 18.3%

  • High school – 12.7%

  • Primary school – 10.1%

  • Hospital – 3.6%

  • Nursing home – 2.8%

  • College – 2.4%

  • Warehouse – 2.2%

  • Kindergarten – 1.8%

  • Pub or bar – 1.6%

  • Hospitality – 1.5%

  • University – 1.4%

  • Manufacturing engineering – 1.4%

  • Household under five – 1.2%

  • General medicine – 1.1%

  • Gym – 1.1%

  • Restaurant or cafe – 1.0%


This comes as a government adviser warned that mixing at Christmas presents “substantial risks”, especially for the elderly, and there is “too much” emphasis on a normal festive period.

And another senior science adviser said she thought “some sort” of Christmas is possible, but may require enhanced measures on either side of the holiday season to allow people to briefly reunite with their families during the holidays.


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