Coronavirus infections have climbed by a million in a week in the U.K., data from the Office for National Statistics suggest. BBC News has more.
Swab tests suggest about one in every 16 people is infected, as the contagious Omicron variant BA.2 continues to spread. That’s just under 4.3 million people, up from 3.3 million the week before. The figures for the week ending March 19th, are thought to give the most accurate reflection of what’s happening with the virus in the community.
Rates were up in England and Wales, and Scotland reached a new high. Infections have started decreasing in Northern Ireland, however. The rates across the nations were:
• England: 6.4%, up from 4.9% last week – approximately one in 16 people
• Wales: 6.4%, up from 4.1% last week – approximately one in 16 people
• Northern Ireland: 5.9%, down from 7.1% last week – approximately one in 17 people
• Scotland: 9%, up from 7.15% last week – approximately one in 11 people
A high number of infections means the U.K. can expect Covid hospitalisations to rise too, although vaccines are still helping to stop many severe cases, say experts.
According to the latest figures, there were 16,975 patients in hospital with the virus on March 23rd. About half will have been admitted for something else, rather than Covid, but tested positive.
In the week since March 19th, however, new daily infections appear to be slowing towards a new peak.
Most importantly, deaths have been below average throughout the winter, owing primarily to the mild Omicron Covid variant and the absence of flu.
Covid deaths have increased a bit since March 11th so we may see deaths above average in the next few weeks, though only moderately.
The fact that virus prevalence is currently close to record levels but there are no calls to reverse the opening up of society or U-turn on the ‘living with Covid’ strategy shows how much things have changed. The sky-high prevalence levels are also signs of how completely the vaccines have failed to prevent infection or spread – though they may still be offering some protection against serious disease in the elderly and vulnerable.
The big worry now is that the current prevailing calm is a product only of the mildness of Omicron, and that should a new, more virulent variant emerge then we will be plunged once again into fear, panic and restrictions. How the world would respond to the return of a virus that produces significant waves of excess deaths – and if one does emerge it will likely be even more evasive of the vaccines – is currently the big unknown. Let’s hope that instead, SARS-CoV-2 now goes the way of other pandemic pathogens, blending into the background, and we never have to find out, as frankly, I wouldn’t be hopeful of good sense prevailing.