Covid-19 infections in England have jumped by 34 per cent in a week as new Omicron variants drive a wave of cases across the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics.
More than one in 30 people in the UK are carrying the virus, according to ONS, with half a million more people infected than a week earlier.
The data released on Friday, covering the week to June 24, show that an estimated 1.8mn people — 3.35 per cent of the population in England — would test positive for Covid.
Scotland remains the nation hit hardest by the surge in infections, with an estimated 288,200 cases — representing 5.47 per cent of the population. The Scottish total is up 15 per cent on the week before.
In Wales, 3.49 per cent of people, and in Northern Ireland 3.87 per cent would have the virus, the ONS found.
Sarah Crofts, head of analytical outputs for the Covid-19 Infection Survey, said: “Across the UK we’ve seen a continued increase of over half a million infections, likely caused by the growth of BA.4 and BA.5 variants.”
The virus is spreading fast, even though between 97 and 98 per cent of people across the UK have antibodies from vaccinations or previous infections, according to the ONS.
This existing immunity is protecting the majority of people from developing severe infections. However, hospital admissions are rising. The number of those hospitalised with Covid was up to 11.11 per 100,000 population in England from 7.98 the previous week, according to the UK Health Security Agency.
But the numbers requiring intensive care are “very low”, according to the UKHSA, while deaths remain steady at about 50 per day.
“Covid has not gone away and we should all remember to keep up good hand and respiratory hygiene,” said Mary Ramsay, clinical programmes director at UKHSA. “It is also sensible to wear a face covering in crowded, enclosed spaces.”
Julian Tang, clinical virologist at Leicester university, said the data showed that Omicron and its subvariants were the strain of Covid best adapted to human spread.
“A more transmissible and less severe variant will outcompete its rivals and enhance the spread of its genes, by allowing relatively well but infected people to mix in society, especially with all pandemic restrictions lifted,” said Tang.
“The unknown risk is with returning travellers coming back from their summer holidays — whether any other new variants with different characteristics may be imported — but this risk is dwindling as Omicron becomes more widespread and global,” he added.
Stephen Griffith, associate medical professor at Leeds university, warned against complacency about rising infections.
“Vaccines reduce severe disease and waves such as this do not cause the same spikes in hospitalisations as we saw, for example, with the Alpha variants,” he said. “However, the constant bombardment of waves we are seeing does cause clinical impact that is not to be underestimated.”
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