Covid cases surged by 40 per cent in England last week, in what is feared to be the start of a fresh wave of the virus.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates 1.13million people were infected on any given day in the week ending June 10, the equivalent of one in 50 of the population. It marks the biggest weekly jump since December, when Omicron was first seeded in the country.
Cases are also rising in Wales and Northern Ireland (one in 45 had the virus last week) and Scotland (one in 30).
The ONS’ weekly infection survey has become the best barometre of the outbreak in the post-pandemic era after free testing was axed and the daily dashboard was scaled down.
Data suggests the resurgence is being driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of Omicron, which are thought to be even more infectious than the parent strain. Scientists also believe the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations may have fuelled the uptick.
Outbreaks of Covid are rising in care homes and hospital admissions are also increasing, and experts fear that it could put more pressure on an already overwhelmed health service.
Meanwhile, there are growing fears the UK could be staring down the barrel of a dual Covid and flu outbreak this winter, with Australia currently being battered by influenza.
It came as Britons flocked to packed beaches and parks today to bask in 33C heat on the hottest day of 2022 so far.
Covid cases surged by 40 per cent in England last week in what is feared to be the start of a fresh wave of the virus, official figures show. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates 1.13million people were infected on any given day in the week ending June 10, the equivalent of one in 50 of the population. That figure is up 42 per cent on the previous week
How dominant Covid variants in England have changed over time: The BA.4 and BA.5 (shown far right in pale pink and red) are surging and taking over from the currently dominant BA.2 variant (sky blue). The original Wuhan virus is shown in green (far left) which was replaced by the Alpha strain (purple) and Delta (pale turquoise). The original Omicron is shown in yellow and a very similar subvariant in pink from December
Thousands of beachgoers basked in 33C degree heat today at a very busy Bournemouth beach on the hottest day of the year
Up to 50,000 beachgoers hit the seafront at Bournemouth which turned into a sea of umbrellas and deckchairs
Kara Steel, senior statistician at the ONS, said: ‘Infections have increased across all four UK nations, driven by rising numbers of people infected with the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.
‘It remains too early to say if this is the start of another wave, but we continue to monitor the data very closely.’
The ONS survey is the last remaining official surveillance programme used by the Government to track the state of the epidemic. It randomly tests tens of thousands of people every week.
It found the percentage of people testing positive increased in all age groups and English regions in the latest week except the North East, where the trend was uncertain.
Rates were highest in the South East, where 2.4 per cent of the population were estimated to be carrying the virus at some point. In the West Midlands, South West and London, it was 2.2 per cent.
Rates were below the national average of 2 per cent in Yorkshire and the North West (both 1.9 per cent) as well as the East of England and the East Midlands (both 1.8 per cent).
In Wales, the estimated number of people testing positive for Covid was 64,800, equating to 2.13 per cent of the population or one in 45 people.
There were an estimated 42,900 infections in Northern Ireland, also giving it a rate of one in 45. In Scotland, the number of positive tests was estimated to be 176,900, or around 1 in 30 people.
Today’s ONS report marks the biggest week-on-week rise in cases since the week ending December 31, when the Omicron variant wreaked havoc on the country’s New Year celebrations.
The initial Omicron surge was then followed by a rise in the more infectious BA.2 Omicron offshoot, which pushed weekly cases to a record high of 4.1million in late March.
PATIENTS ADMITTED TO HOSPITAL WITH COVIS IN ENGLAND: There has been a rise in admissions in recent weeks, with around 700 being admitted per day now. But the daily figures do not differentiate between people who were primarily admitted for the virus or just happened to test positive incidentally
COVID INPATIENTS IN ENGLAND: There are around 5,000 patients with the virus being treated in hospital currently
COVID ICU PATIENTS IN ENGLAND: Just 130 patients are unwell enough to need intensive care
COVID DEATHS IN ENGLAND: Around 40 people are dying from Covid each day in England currently
Experts believe the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-strains are even more infectious than both predecessors and are driving the latest rise.
Their prevalence has nearly doubled every week, according to data from the Sanger Institute — one of the UK’s largest Covid surveillance centres. Both strains combined made up a 41.7 per cent share of infections in the week to June 4.
In a worrying sign, separate data from the UK Health Security Agency show there has been a rise in clusters of cases in care homes.
There were 153 suspected outbreaks across Britain in the week ending June 12, up from 67 the previous week.
The data also shows that Covid hospital admissions among over-85s has risen for the second week in a row, with the rate now 52.7 per 100,000, up from 41.9 a week ago. Admissions in this age group peaked at 212.1 per 100,000 earlier this year during the BA.2 wave.
The overall hospital admission rate for all age groups in England last week was 6.1 per 100,000 people, up from 4.7.
Dr Mary Ramsay, the agency’s director of clinical programmes, said: ‘After a period of low case rates, we are now seeing increases in outbreaks within care homes and in hospitalisations among those aged 80 years and over. It is encouraging that we are not seeing an increase in intensive care unit admissions but we are monitoring data closely and assessing the possible impact of subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.
‘As we enter summer, it’s still important to remember that Covid-19 has not gone away and to get vaccinated to reduce the risk of becoming seriously ill.’
Figures published last week by the Office for National Statistics showed Covid-19 levels in the UK were no longer falling, with increases in some parts of the country likely to have been caused by a jump in infections compatible with BA.4 and BA.5.
Left-leaning scientists, who were critical of No10’s decision to ease restrictions, have already called for a return of mask-wearing and urged Britons to meet outside because of the uptick in infections.
But Britain’s resurgence was inevitable, according to leading experts who have attempted to quell panic about the ‘new wave’.
Professor Robert Dingwall, a sociologist at Nottingham Trent University, told MailOnline: ‘It’s important not to let ourselves be panicked by any increase in positive tests unless it is clear these are actually resulting in increases in severe illness.
‘The population has very high degree of immunity from vaccination and previous infection.
‘The revival of restrictions like mask mandates would be premature particularly as the fragility of evidence that there is any general benefit is not obvious.’
Are Britain and the US heading for a super-flu outbreak this winter? Australia sees massive surge that’s being blamed on lockdowns
Concerns are being raised about a major flu outbreak this winter in Britain and the US as the virus wreaks havoc in Australia.
Experts have been warning about the potential of an influenza surge throughout the pandemic, with lockdown thought to have weakened people’s immune systems.
So far those fears have not materialised in the northern hemisphere, but Australia is currently in the midst of its worst flu season in years.
Southern hemisphere countries like Australia are seen as the ‘canary in the coalmine’ because they have their winters earlier in the year.
Australia suffered a record 65,000 flu cases in May, more than double the previous May record of 30,000 in 2019, with diagnoses up almost 300 times than last year in parts of the country.
Children’s hospitals have also seen spikes in paediatric admissions that have forced some to take the unprecedented action of diverting ‘less urgent cases’ to other healthcare providers.
Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick University, told MailOnline ‘there is a real concern the UK could be faced with a “perfect storm” of respiratory virus infections this coming winter’.
‘Australia really is the “canary in the coalmine” and we should sit up and take notice.’