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Official data estimated 4.9million people had the bug in the seven days up to last Saturday. The figure – the highest since the pandemic began – was 600,000 more than the previous week. And the release of the data coincided with the end of free Covid test kits in England. But ministers believe the current hospitalisation and death rates – far lower than during the peak of the pandemic – did not give cause to deviate from Boris Johnson’s “living with Covid” plan.
Yesterday’s monthly update from the regular Covid Infection Survey by the Office for National Statistics showed one in 13 of the population of England had the disease during the seven days to last Saturday.
The infection rate was even higher in Scotland – where Nicola Sturgeon’s government has kept compulsory masks and other measures in place far longer than in England.
One in 12 people in Scotland were estimated to have the virus during the period.
Slightly lower infection rates were recorded inWales and Northern Ireland.
In the top Covid hot spots of Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch as many as one in nine people were thought to have the virus. Kara Steel, Senior Statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey, said: “Infection levels remain high, with the highest levels recorded in our survey seen in England and Wales and notable increases among older age groups.”
Separate figures released this week showed 15,906 people were admitted to hospital with coronavirus in the last seven days compared with more than 4,000 a day in January 2021.
A total of 19,534 patients were in hospital including 365 requiring a ventilator.
A total of 1,097 people were recorded as having died in the last seven days after testing positive for Covid in the last 28 days, up by 21 percent compared with the previous week.
At the peak of the pandemic in January 2021, the daily death toll reached around 3,000.
James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute at the University of Oxford, said: “Omicron BA.2 is less severe but the main reason we have endured this wave with many fewer deaths is vaccination.
“The elderly and vulnerable have been able to fight off this virus without very serious illness. Omicron BA.2 still kills the vulnerable unvaccinated.”
Helen Wimalarathna, a lecturer in Medical Sciences at University of Buckingham, told the BBC: “When we have such high transmission, we know that each transmission event is an opportunity for mutation in the virus and mutations inevitably lead to new variants. We won’t necessarily detect a new variant until we see a rise in hospitalisation and severe numbers.”
University of Cambridge statistician Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter said the soaring infection rate was “predictable” but was likely to reach a peak and then fall.
He added: “It seems to be levelling off among the young but still increasing in older people, who of course are more vulnerable.
“We will hit a peak. Other countries have hit a peak and cases are coming down.”
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