Covid cases up 32% as Omicron BA4 and BA5 variants drive infections across UK

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Covid infections have hit the highest level since late April

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that infections have jumped by more than 30% in a week.

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Covid infections are continuing to rise across the UK (Photo: Getty Images)Covid infections are continuing to rise across the UK (Photo: Getty Images)
Covid infections are continuing to rise across the UK (Photo: Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

An estimated 2.3 million people in the UK had Covid in the week ending 24 June - an increase of 32% from around 1.7 million the week before.

It marks the highest estimate for total infections since late April, but is still below the record high of 4.9 million which was reached at the end of March.

The virus remains most prevalent in Scotland, where 288,200 people are estimated to have had the virus last week, or one in 18. This is up week-on-week from 250,700, or one in 20, and is the highest estimate for Scotland since early April.

In England, 1.8 million people are estimated to have had Covid in the week to 24 June, up from 1.4 million, or one in 40, the previous week.

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Wales has also seen infections jump to 106,000, or one in 30, up from 68,500, or one in 45, while in Northern Ireland, infections have increased to an estimated 71,000 people, or one in 25, up from 59,900, or one in 30.

Hospital numbers are also continuing to increase, with early signs of a rise in intensive care admissions among older age groups.

Why are infections rising?

The ONS says the rise in infections is likely being caused by the newer Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5.

Sarah Crofts, ONS head of analytical outputs for the Covid-19 infection survey, said: “Across the UK we’ve seen a continued increase of over half a million infections, likely caused by the growth of BA.4 and BA.5 variants.

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“This rise is seen across all ages, countries and regions of England.

“We will continue to monitor the data closely to see if this growth continues in the coming weeks.”

Together, BA.4 and BA.5 now make up more than half of new Covid cases in England and are thought to be the most dominant strains in much of the UK.

The variants were recently classified by the UK Health Security Agency as “variants of concern” and analysis has found that both strains were likely to have a “growth advantage” over BA..

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They also have a degree of “immune escape”, meaning the immune system can no longer recognise or fight a virus, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

Health experts said that while there is “currently no evidence” that BA.4 and BA.5 lead to more serious symptoms than previous variants, nearly one in six people aged 75 and over have not received a booster dose of vaccine in the past six months, putting them more at risk of severe disease.

Professor Susan Hopkins, UKHSA chief medical adviser, said: “It is clear that the increasing prevalence of Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 are significantly increasing the case numbers we have observed in recent weeks.

“We have seen a rise in hospital admissions in line with community infections but vaccinations are continuing to keep ICU admissions and deaths at low levels.

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“As prevalence increases, it’s more important than ever that we all remain alert, take precautions, and ensure that we’re up to date with Covid-19 vaccinations, which remain our best form of defence against the virus.”

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