Covid infection levels have reached a new record high in the UK, new figures show.
An average of 351,000 people are contracting the virus each day, according to the latest data from ZOE Covid study app, which is an increase of 13% from the beginning of this month.
The previous record of 350,000 daily infections was set in late March 2022.
Infections expected to rise even further
Covid infections are expected to rise even higher in the UK to almost 400,000 per day next week, before numbers start to decline.
Cases are already beginning to plateau in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but are still increasing in England.
The new record infections marks an increase of 237,516 cases per day since the start of June when they stood at 114,030, meaning they have more than tripled. The new record represents an increase of 237,516 cases a day since the start of June, when they stood at 114,030.
Professor Tim Spector, the lead scientist behind the research, said one in 15 people in the UK currently have the virus and the recent surge has largely been driven by the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.
The newest strains are much better at evading immunity built up by vaccination and past infection compared to their predecessor BA.2, although health experts say there is “currently no evidence” they can cause more serious illness.
Infections are also still rising in all age groups, according to the research, but are starting to level out among children.
Prof Spector said: “No one expected levels would go up as much as they have.
“Not me or anyone I’ve spoken to believed it would go much above 200,000 in this wave – so to see it go up to nearly double that is showing we still don’t fully understand this virus and how it’s affecting people.”
He expects that infection levels will continue to increase for another week before declining, but not to the same degree as previous waves.
He added: “There’s no sign of it slowing down in England, where it looks like it’s set to continue for at least another week like this. It has plateaued in Scotland where it beat the previous record by a long way and it looks like it’s slowing down in Wales and Northern Ireland. There is a possibility it could get near 400,000. So hopefully in a week’s time it will be flat.
“It’s not going to drop back as fast as it did in the past because people’s behaviour has changed. I think we’ll go down to say one in 40 or one in 50 – compared to around 1 in 15 at the moment. And then it will start going up again when the schools go back.”
What is the top Covid symptom?
A sore throat is now the most reported Covid symptom in the UK, taking over from a headache, a report from the ZOE Covid app shows.
The app allows people who are infected with the virus to report their symptoms and this data is then analysed by King’s College London researchers who track infections across the country, identifying who is most at risk and where the highest risk areas are.
The next most prevalent symptoms are a headache and a blocked nose, data shows.
The app has identified the following 10 symptoms as the most common signs of infection, based on reports 17,500 people who tested positive in the in the last week:
• Sore throat - 58% • Headache - 49% • Blocked nose - 40% • Cough no phlegm - 40% • Runny nose - 40% • Cough with phlegm - 37% • Hoarse voice - 35% • Sneezing - 32% • Fatigue - 27% • Muscle pains/aches - 25%
The more “old fashioned” Covid symptoms have dropped much further down the rankings by comparison, including a fever, and a loss or change to sense of smell or taste.
Prof Spector said face masks and self-isolation are key to keeping infection levels down and urged people to be cautious.
He said: “Wearing masks and isolating for a minimum of five days if you get the virus. If you’re not testing, you should assume it’s Covid at the moment because it’s far more prevalent than anything else out there.
“It’s much more likely to be Covid than a summer cold.”
Dame Dr Jenny Harries, one of the UK’s most senior health officials, has also advised people to take precautions, highlighting handwashing, keeping distance where possible and wearing a face covering in enclosed, poorly ventilated places as measures to help reduce the risk of spreading infection.
People are urged to stay at home and avoid contact with others if they experience any Covid symptoms or feel unwell.