COVID cases almost double in a month: 'This is what living with the virus will look like'

Two epidemiologists give Yahoo News their takes on COVID cases rising once again in the UK

Person wearing a face mask to protect against Coronavirus / Covid-19 on 26th March 2023 in London, United Kingdom. The usage of face coverings in public places is very much reduced since rates of infection dropped and the fear of the pandemic decreased. Despite this, mask usage still continues to some degree.
Covid cases are rising again, but experts don't expect that we will match the peaks of last year again. (Alamy)

Coronavirus cases in the UK have almost doubled over the past month, estimates show, amid fears this number will increase as children return to schools in September.

According to the Zoe Health Study, daily cases at the beginning of September were at 92,965, compared with 50,000 at the beginning of August.

Over one million people are predicted to have symptomatic COVID-19 infections in the UK, experts have said, as cases continue to rise globally.

Led by researchers at Kings College London, the project updated its map of infections across the country at the end of August, claiming the estimated number of cases with symptoms had passed the one million mark.

Its data shows cases have been rising since early July, and COVID-related hospitalisations have also been increasing in recent months.

'Living with COVID'

Two epidemiologists have told Yahoo News that we should expect waves like this every year as we get used to "living with COVID".

As the virus now generally produces milder symptoms compared to the peak of the COVID outbreak a few years ago, while the most vulnerable people have access to booster shots, they are not particularly concerned by the recent figures, although they say hospitalisations should be watched closely.

While this will be encouraging news to many, scientists are still remaining vigilant over the newly detected BA.2.86 COVID strain, nicknamed "Pirola", which, due to its high number of mutations, could be much more transmissible compared to previous variants. 'Pirola' is currently regarded as a subvariant of omicron.

How much are COVID cases rising in the UK?

The below chart from the Zoe Health Study shows that while cases are currently on the rise, passing one million for the first time since around 1 June, we are nowhere close to the territory of last summer.

Its data is based on reports submitted by users, so it may well be that cases are actually much higher when including those who aren't contributing their experiences to the project.

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The Zoe Health Study shows a noteworthy rise in cases since early July. (Zoe Health Study)

Which regions have the most COVID cases?

The Zoe Health Study estimates the number of new daily cases across the UK to be 84,846, with Scotland being hit the hardest with up to 2,175 daily cases per million people.

The second most infectious region is Wales, with up to 1898 cases per million, followed by London with 1,682.

A separate map shows Edinburgh to be the UK city with the highest number of active cases - currently standing at 59,574 per million people.

However, it's worth noting that not enough people in London are contributing to the Zoe Health Study to produce a reliable figure for the capital - so it could be higher for all we know.

Read more: COVID 'Pirola': What we know as scientists track 'highly mutated' variant
Scotland currently has the highest number of daily cases. (Zoe Health Study)

How worried should we be?

While the recent rise in cases is "noteworthy" and "something to keep an eye on", Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh, doesn't appear overly concerned.

"I'm not convinced that the data that I've seen the Edinburgh is the epicentre of a new wave or anything like that anything is dramatic as that," he tells Yahoo News.

"Cases are higher in some parts of the country more than others, and that's a piece of information people may use to make their own decisions about how they assess the risk to themselves and those around them.

"But this is a continuing process, and this is what living with COVID is going to look like.

"There are going to be periods, as numbers of cases are increasing, hospitalisations are going up, and we're all going to get a little bit more worried, and that's what it's going to be like for the foreseeable future."

"One thing we can all do - if we want to, although we have to pay for it now - is to get ourselves tested. That's something I personally would do before going to see an elderly or vulnerable relative."

Read more: Millions may have long COVID without realising it

A member of NHS Test and Trace collects a sample from a member of the public at the drive-thru Covid-19 testing site on Hawkwood Road in Bournemouth. The UK Health Security Agency have said people in England without coronavirus symptoms who have a positive lateral flow test will no longer need a confirmatory PCR test from January 11. Picture date: Wednesday January 5, 2022. (Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images)
We are unlikely to return to the days of NHS Test and Trace, as we learn to 'live with Covid', experts tell Yahoo News. (Getty Images)

Prof Woolhouse adds that these kinds of fluctuations are "always bound to go up and down", as they have with influenza for a number of years, and that from time to time, it will put pressure on the health service, adding: "We are all going to have to collectively and individually manage the risk associated with it."

Keith Neal, Emeritus Professor of the Epidemiology of Infectious Disease at the University of Nottingham, said that for a 65-year-old man with "a few underlying conditions", he's "really not worried at all".

"A friend of mine has recently had chemo for breast cancer. I'm not worried for her either, we've both been vulnerable and we've both had COVID."

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Suggesting that the virus is not the threat it was just a few years ago, he said: "Basically this current form of COVID is beginning to behave like the other four of the other coronaviruses that come round and cause coughs and colds.

"We've had them for years and years. This one is probably a little bit more serious than those. It is giving people symptoms, but it's not making many people very ill.

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"There will be some who may become quite ill, but it may be that they have a dual infection, including another virus we don't test for or don't even know about."

As people's immunity - either from vaccinations or from having had COVID - wanes over time, while the virus evolves in order to survive, Prof Neal says we will inevitably see waves of infections.

He describes COVID's adaptation over the time as a "living example of Darwin's theory of natural selection", adding that it makes sense from an evolutionary perspective for the virus to become more infectious - but less deadly - to prevent killing too many potential host bodies.

"Essentially our immune system, as it adapts its defences, is putting evolutionary pressure on the virus. Generally, a virus does not want to kill you.

"What it would love to do is for you to have mild symptoms, for you to cough and sneeze as you go to work. If it kills you, the virus dies with you, which is not sensible."

Read more: COVID: should we start wearing masks again?

'Work from home'

With COVID showing no signs of disappearing over the coming years, Prof Neal offers these words of advice.

"The bottom line has not changed for about a year. If you have a respiratory tract infection, stay away from people, don't go to work - work from home or stay off sick.

"And that could be flu, it could be COVID, it could be RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), it could be a rhinovirus.

"It really should be treated like another respiratory virus, for which we can offer a vaccine - and I recommend that you are vaccinated - and for certain groups of people we do have drugs that are able to reduce the severity of the illness."