The rate of Covid-19 admissions to hospitals in England has fallen for the first time in two months, in a fresh sign the latest wave of infections may have peaked.
Admissions to intensive care units (ICU) have also dropped, while the overall number of patients testing positive for the virus now appears to be on a downwards trend.
Covid-19 infection levels have been rising since the end of May, driven by the spread of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants.
But hospital data suggests the impact of the current wave of the virus is starting to ease.
Hospital admissions in England of people with Covid-19 stood at 16.3 per 100,000 in the seven days to July 24, down from 18.2 the previous week.
It is the first time the admission rate has fallen week-on-week since the seven days to May 29.
The ICU admission rate has dropped from 0.7 per 100,000 people to 0.5 – again, the first week-on-week fall since the end of May.
The figures, which have been published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), show hospital admission rates are now dropping for all age groups, though they remain highest among the most elderly.
Admissions stood at 150.0 per 100,000 for people aged 85 and over in the week to July 24, down from 164.2 the previous week.
— UK Health Security Agency (@UKHSA) July 28, 2022
Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, UKHSA deputy director of public health programmes, described the figures as “encouraging” but warned the virus has “not gone away”, adding: “We really want to see further declines in the coming weeks and months.
“People aged 75 and over remain at particular risk of severe disease if they are not up to date with their vaccinations.
“We urge anyone who is not up to date with their jabs to come forward to give themselves the best possible protection.”
All over-75s in the UK were offered a “spring booster” of Covid-19 vaccine earlier this year, available at least three months after their most recent jab – though 15% of people in this age group are estimated to have not received any doses in the past six months, putting them more at risk of serious illness.
The total number of people in hospital in England who have tested positive for Covid-19 stood at 11,437 on July 28, down 19% from a peak of 14,044 on July 18.
Patient numbers in the latest wave have not risen as high as they did during the two waves of infection earlier this year, both of which saw peaks above 16,000.
Numbers have also remained well below the peak reached during the Alpha wave of infections in January 2021, when more than 34,000 patients with Covid-19 were in hospital.
High prevalence of Covid antibodies among the population – either from vaccination or previous infection – means the number of people seriously ill or dying from the virus continues to be at a low level.
The latest estimates of the number of people infected with Covid-19 across the UK will be published on Friday by the Office for National Statistics.
A total of 3.8 million people in private households were likely to have had the virus in the week to July 13/14, the highest estimates since mid-April but still below the record high of 4.9 million at the peak of the Omicron BA.2 wave in late March.