The rise marks the biggest percentage jump since June, as experts warn there has also been a “notable rise” in infections among older age groups who are seeing the highest rates of admission to hospital.
The latest figures, released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Friday, show some 1.7 million people across the UK are likely to have tested positive for Covid between 23 September and 3 October. This is up from 1.3 million in the previous survey, which covered 18 to 26 September.
It is the highest UK-wide total since late July but is still below the 3.8 million weekly infections in early July, at the peak of the wave caused by the Omicron BA.4/BA.5 subvariants.
Infection rates in England are highest among people aged 70 and over, with 3.7% likely to have tested positive for coronavirus in the latest survey, or around one in 25, the ONS said. This is up from 2.5%, or one in 40, in the previous survey.
All regions of England have seen a rise in the percentage of people testing positive except for the north east, where the trend is uncertain.
Infections have also increased in Wales and Northern Ireland, but the trend in Scotland is uncertain, according to the ONS.
What are the top Covid symptoms?
Early on in the pandemic, people were urged to look out for signs of a high temperature, a persistent cough and a loss of smell or taste, but as new Covid variants have emerged the telltale signs of infection have changed.
Prof Spector explained that the symptoms of common cold and Covid are very similar, but there are some signs to help tell them apart.
He said: “A sore throat is common in over 60% of both of these (colds and Covid). In a cold, you are more likely to have a runny nose than for Covid and you are also more likely to be having sneezing, which again is less frequent with Covid.
“But it is pretty hard to tell and you just need to get yourself tested.”
Data suggests those who are unvaccinated may be more likely to get a headache and a sore throat as a key indicator of Covid, whereas a runny nose tops the list of symptoms among those who are fully vaccinated. The main signs to look for if you are fully jabbed include:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Persistent cough
A fever has previously been a common Covid symptom but now ranks further down the list for vaccinated people, and fewer people also appear to be suffering less from shortness of breath.
Health officials are now calling for those who are eligible to come forward for their autumn booster dose of Covid to increase protection against serious illness during new waves of the virus.
Dr Mary Ramsay, director of public health programmes at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said: “We’re seeing sustained increases in Covid-19 cases and hospitalisation rates, so we continue to urge those eligible for vaccinations to come forward, whether that’s a first dose or a booster.
“Vaccines are the best protection against severe disease and hospitalisation this winter and it’s never too late to take up your first dose.
“If you are unwell or have symptoms of a respiratory infection, it is particularly important to avoid contact with elderly people or those who are more likely to have severe disease because of their ongoing health conditions.”
All people aged 50 and over in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are now able to book an appointment for the booster, providing they had their last jab at least three months ago.
People aged 50 to 64 in Scotland will be invited soon.
Doses are also available to frontline health and care workers, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.