UK ‘may be over peak’ of latest wave of Covid-19 infections

·5-min read

Covid-19 infections in the UK have fallen for the first time in two months, though prevalence of the virus remains high, new figures show.

It is the biggest sign so far that the current wave may have peaked, and comes as the number of hospital patients with coronavirus is also starting to drop.

Infections are not on a clear downwards trend in all parts of the country, however.

Some 3.2 million people in private households in the UK are estimated to have had Covid-19 in the week to July 20, down 16% from 3.8 million in the previous week, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It is the first time total infections have fallen since the week ending May 28.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

Sarah Crofts, ONS head of analytical outputs for the Covid-19 infection survey, said: “Our most recent data suggest that we may now be over the peak of the latest wave of infections across the UK, although rates still remain among the highest seen during the course of the pandemic.

“We have seen welcome decreases among most parts of the UK and in all age groups.

“With summer holidays starting and more people travelling, we will continue to closely monitor the data.”

The current wave has been driven by the BA.5 Omicron subvariant, which is now the dominant form of Covid-19 in the country.

High levels of coronavirus antibodies among the population – either from vaccination or previous infection – mean the number of people seriously ill or dying from the virus remains low.

An estimated 2.6 million people in England were likely to have had coronavirus in the week to July 20, the equivalent of around one in 20, the ONS said.

This is down from 3.1 million, or one in 17, a week earlier.

In Scotland, 272,000 people were estimated to have had the virus in the most recent week, or around one in 19.

This is down from 340,900, or one in 15.

Wales has seen infections fall to 156,200, or one in 19 people, down from 183,200, or one in 17.

Northern Ireland is only UK nation to have seen a week-on-week rise in prevalence, though the ONS describes the trend as “uncertain”.

Infections there have increased to an estimated 113,400 people, or one in 16, up from 88,400, or one in 20.

The percentage of people testing positive for Covid-19 has fallen in all regions of England except in the North East, where the trend is again described as uncertain.

Among age groups in England, prevalence is highest in 50 to 69-year-olds and those between school Year 12 and age 24, where infection rates are estimated to be 5.3% – the equivalent of one in 19 people.

The ONS figures are based on a sample of swab tests collected regularly from people in households across the UK, whether or not they have Covid symptoms, and is the most reliable measure of the prevalence of the virus.

If infections continue to fall in future weeks, it means the BA.5 wave will have peaked in the UK at a lower level than the BA.2 wave earlier this year, which saw infections hit a weekly record of 4.9 million in late March.

Professor James Naismith, from the University of Oxford, said it is “encouraging” to see the current wave “falling backwards”, and that prevalence of the virus “will have fallen further” since the ONS estimates were compiled.

He added: “The vaccines have proved extraordinarily effective at lowering serious illness and deaths. They are less effective at preventing infection. Many people have had multiple bouts of Covid-19 and being infected does not give a magical immunity – vaccination is by the far the safest way to protect oneself against serious illness.

“This wave put the health service under significant pressure, which also appears to be easing.”

HEALTH Coronavirus Hospitals
(PA Graphics)

The number of people in hospital in England who have tested positive for Covid-19 stood at 11,437 on July 28, NHS data shows.

This is 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 BA.2 wave, which peaked above 16,000.

Numbers have 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.

The rate of coronavirus admissions to hospitals and to intensive care units are also showing signs of falling.

Admissions in England stood at 16.3 per 100,000 people 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.

Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, UK Health Security Agency deputy director of public health programmes, warned that 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 a 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.

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