Covid-19 infections have risen sharply across most of the UK and are approaching record levels in England, while both Scotland and Wales have hit an all-time high, new figures show.
Across the UK as a whole, 4.26 million people are likely to have had coronavirus last week, just down from 4.30 million in the first week of 2022, which was the highest total since they began. the estimates.
Northern Ireland is the only nation where infections are believed to be falling, with levels declining for two weeks in a row, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The sharp rise in infections across much of the country is being driven by the Omicron BA.2 variant, a more transmissible form of Omicron, the ONS said.
The figures are further evidence that Covid-19 is rapidly becoming more prevalent in the UK and comes as the number of people in hospital with the virus continues to rise.
Around one in 16 people in private households in England, or 3.5 million people, are likely to have had Covid-19 in the week to March 19.
This is more than one in 20, or 2.7 million people, in the previous week and is the third week in a row that infections are estimated to have increased.
Wales has also seen its third consecutive jump in infections, with the figure rising from 125,400 people, or one in 25, to 192,900 people, or one in 16 – a record.
In Scotland, infections have now risen for eight weeks in a row and have also hit another record high, with almost half a million people (473,800) likely to have had Covid-19 in the past week, or one in 11. This is more than 376,300 . people, or one in 14, the previous week.
But in Northern Ireland, infections have fallen for the second week in a row and are now estimated at 108,700 people, or one in 17, down from 130,600 people, or one in 14.
The percentage of people who have tested positive for Covid-19 in England has increased across all age groups and regions, the ONS found.
Infection levels among those over 70 remain at their highest since estimates began in England in May 2020, with around one in 20 (5.0%) likely to have the virus, a rise weekly of one in 30 (3.5%).
However, covid-19 is still more prevalent among young children.
Around one in 12 (8.3%) of those aged between two years and school year 6 are estimated to have had coronavirus in the past week, compared to one in 16 (6.3%).
The ONS Infection Survey is the most reliable measure of the prevalence of Covid-19 in the UK.
It uses a representative sample of swab tests collected regularly from tens of thousands of households and can therefore estimate the percentage of people who are likely to test positive for Covid-19 at any one time, regardless of when they contracted the virus. how many times they have had it and if they have symptoms.
The survey is far more representative of the level of Covid-19 in the UK than the number of cases announced each day by the Government, which includes only those people who have reported testing positive for the virus, and is affected by how many people are coming in for tests or getting tested because they know they have coronavirus symptoms.
James Naismith, a professor of structural biology at the University of Oxford, warned that the latest figures from the ONS showed there was “no sign yet” that the virus had peaked.
“Politicians in the UK and at delegated levels have decided as a practical matter to let the virus spread through the population,” he said.
“The scale of the infection is now putting pressure on the health service, but the combination of vaccination, improved treatments and the less severe nature of Omicron means that for the vast majority of people infected this will not be life-threatening.
“This wave will simply burn itself out by infecting everyone who can be infected.”
Dr Stephen Griffin, a professor of medicine at the University of Leeds, said the combination of the BA.2 variant and relaxation of covid restrictions is “causing a massive resurgence of infection” with “worrying” spread between the older age groups.
He added: “Blinding ourselves to this level of damage does not constitute living with a virus infection, quite the contrary. Apparently, public health has fallen drastically down this government’s list of priorities, to the detriment of the UK population as a whole.”
A total of 16,975 people with Covid-19 were hospitalized in the UK on March 23, up 18% from the previous week and the highest number since January 24.
But this is still below the level seen at the peak of the original Omicron wave on January 10 (20,048) and well below the peak reached during the second wave of the virus in January 2021 (39,255).
Separate figures from England’s NHS show just over half of all hospitalized Covid-19 patients are being treated primarily for something else, up from a quarter in autumn 2021.
All patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 should be treated separately from those who do not have the virus, regardless of whether they are in the hospital primarily for COVID-19 or not.
But the proportion of patients who are in hospital “with” Covid-19 rather than “for” Covid-19 (55% as of March 22) is another sign that the current wave of the virus has not generated the same kind of Pressure. in intensive care as in previous waves.