UK Covid-19 infections fall 25% with levels dropping in most areas

·5-min read

Covid-19 infections in most parts of the UK are continuing to fall, with levels in England dropping below one million for the first time since the start of June, figures show.

Hospital cases also remain on a downwards trend, though health experts have warned the virus is likely to become more prevalent in the autumn and winter.

Booster doses of Covid-19 vaccine will start being given to care home residents from next week as part of a nationwide campaign offering a fresh jab to everyone aged 50 and over, to increase protection ahead of future waves.

A total of 1.1 million people in private households in the UK are estimated to have had coronavirus in the week to August 23, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

This is a drop of 25% from 1.4 million the previous week.

Infections hit 3.8 million in early July during the spread of the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of the virus, but have fallen in recent weeks.

Kara Steel, ONS senior statistician for the Covid-19 infection survey, said: “Today’s data shows infection levels continue to decrease across most of the UK, with the number of people with Covid-19 in England now estimated to be under one million for the first time since early June.

“Though there is an uncertain trend in Northern Ireland, it is too early to say if this marks the end of the recent decrease.

“We will monitor the data closely to understand the impact of schools returning across the UK.”

Northern Ireland is the only one of the four UK nations where the trend in infection levels is considered by the ONS to be “uncertain”, with 35,800 people likely to have tested positive for Covid-19 in the week to August 23, the equivalent of about one in 50.

This compares with 26,400, or one in 70, in the week to August 16 – though the change is too small for the ONS to describe it as an increase.

The latest estimate for people testing positive in England is 893,300, or one in 60, down from 1.2 million, or one in 45.

This is the first time the figure for England has dropped below one million since the week ending June 2.

In Wales, infections stood at 47,300 in the latest week, or one in 65 people, compared with 65,500, or one in 45, in the previous survey.

For Scotland the latest estimate is 96,000, the equivalent of one in 55 people, down from 135,000 or one in 40.

The number of people testing positive is estimated to have decreased in all regions of England except the East Midlands, where the trend is described by the ONS as “uncertain”.

All age groups in England are estimated to have seen a fall in prevalence of the virus.

Infection rates are highest among the 50-69 age group, with 1.9% likely to test positive in the most recent week, or around one in 50 people.

Rates are lowest among young children between the age of two and school year six, at 1.0% – the equivalent of one in 100.

The ONS infection survey is the most reliable measure of the prevalence of Covid-19 and is based on a sample of swab tests from households across the UK.

The BA.4/BA.5 wave has not been as steep as the Omicron BA.2 wave earlier in 2022, which saw weekly infections peak at 4.9 million in late March.

Hospital numbers during the latest wave also peaked at a lower level than earlier in the year.

The number of patients in the UK testing positive for the virus reached 17,310 on July 15, compared with a peak of 20,559 on April 6 during the BA.2 wave.

The latest available data for UK patients shows the number with coronavirus stood at 7,665 on August 25, down 16% week-on-week.

Dr Jamie Lopez Bernal, consultant epidemiologist for immunisation and countermeasures at the UK Health Security Agency, said: “The latest Covid-19 indicators provide more positive news, with continued low levels of case rates and hospitalisations and a sustained downward trend.

“The autumn booster will provide the best protection against Covid-19 this winter and we urge all those eligible – people aged 50 and over and those with underlying health conditions – to come forward when called for their jab.

“The latest evidence shows effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines against hospitalisation with the BA.4 and BA.5 variant is similar to the protection given for BA.2, and getting a booster dose six or more months after your first two jabs increases protection against hospitalisation by around 60%.”

The autumn booster campaign begins in England on September 5 when NHS staff will start vaccinating care home residents and people who are housebound.

A national booking service will also open, inviting over-75s and people susceptible to serious illness to choose an appointment.

The rollout is already under way in Wales, while boosters will be offered in Scotland from next week and in Northern Ireland from later this month.