The rate of Covid-19 hospital admissions in England has climbed to its highest level since the start of the year, in fresh evidence the virus is once again becoming more prevalent.
There were 9.4 admissions per 100,000 people in the week to February 19, up from 7.9 per 100,000 the previous week, NHS data shows.
It is the fourth week in a row that the admission rate has increased.
During the recent wave of infections over Christmas 2022, the rate peaked at 11.8 per 100,000.
A total of 8,015 people were in hospital in England on February 22 who had tested positive for Covid-19, up 11% on the previous week and the highest since January 10.
The number reached 9,535 on December 29 – though this was well below levels seen in early waves of the pandemic.
The Christmas wave of Covid-19 infections was one of the factors putting extra pressure on the NHS this winter, along with a surge in cases of flu, a shortage of beds and staff sickness.
Flu levels have dropped sharply since early January, with an average of 638 flu patients in hospital beds each day last week, down from 738 the previous week and 5,441 at the start of the year.
This is well above the average of 29 patients at this point last year, however.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the UK Health Security Agency, said: “Covid-19 and flu are still in circulation. Hospital admission rates for Covid-19 are continuing to increase, particularly among those aged 65 and over.
“Although flu case rates remain relatively low, we have also seen a rise in hospital admission rates among the over-85s, who are at greater risk of severe illness.
“Simple actions can make a big difference in reducing the spread of these viruses.
“You can help by regularly washing your hands or staying at home and avoiding vulnerable people if you are unwell. If you do have to leave the house, please consider wearing a face covering, which can help prevent you passing respiratory viruses on.”