Data from the Office for National Statistics showed around 2.71 million people in the UK had Covid in the last week of June - up 18% from the week before.
Hospitalisations are also rising with 11,316 people in hospital in the UK with Covid in the last week of June - up almost 3,000 on the week before.
Dr Naru Narayanan, president of the HCSA – the hospital doctors’ union – told the Guardian he was extremely concerned about the rise in Covid cases in hospital and he was hearing regular reports of rising staff absences because of Covid.
He said: “NHS staff are already under intense pressure amid a workforce crisis and morale is at rock bottom.
“Exhausted staff are stepping up to ensure that patient care does not suffer, but every week is a battle to fill rotas. The wisdom of watering down infection control procedures and removing face masks now looks decidedly lacking.”
The rise in infections is being driven by the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of the virus but the numbers are still below the record high of 4.9 million people testing positive, which was reached at the end of March during the wave of infections caused by the BA.2 variant.
Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and an expert in infectious diseases, told the PA news agency: “At present, I suspect we will see a peak of infections that is greater than previous waves probably before the end of this month.
“I am not sure how high the number of people in hospital because of Covid or deaths where Covid appears on the death certificate will go, but I think it likely – but not certain – that these will fall below what was seen after previous waves.”
Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said the UK was now in “a substantial wave of infection” which underlines that coronavirus “is not just a problem in winter”.
Vaccines are continuing to provide significant protection, but “not all elderly people have had their fourth or even their third dose, which increases the risk of severe illness, hospitalisation and death,” he added.