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Covid-19: Sharp rise in infections seen across the UK

BMJ 2022; 378 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.o1638 (Published 04 July 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;378:o1638
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. Kent

Covid-19 infections in the UK are up 32% on the previous week with an estimated 2.3 million people infected, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).1

Rates have continued to increase across all four UK countries, likely driven by the growth of the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants, the ONS said.

In the week ending 25 June an estimated 1 829 100 people would have tested positive for covid in England—around one in 30 people—according to the ONS coronavirus infection survey. A week earlier that rate was one in 40.

The rates are even higher in Scotland with an estimated 288 200 people testing positive, equating to one in 18 people.

The data, published on 1 July, show that in Wales an estimated 106 000 people tested positive, or around one in 30. In Northern Ireland the estimated number of people testing positive was 7000 or one in 25.

The percentage of people testing positive for covid-19 increased across all English regions and in all age groups.

The ONS says infection levels are now higher than at the peak of the alpha variant wave in January 2021. At the time of the alpha peak, however, hospital admissions were over three times higher and deaths were 22 times higher.

The number of covid-19 patients in hospital is increasing. In England almost 9000 hospital beds were taken up with covid patients on 30 June and that number has doubled since the start of the month. Hospital admissions with covid are increasing across all age groups and in all regions except the south west, where the trend was uncertain.2

The overall hospital admission rate of covid-19 confirmed patients in England increased to 11.11 for every 100 000 people—compared with 36.68 for every 100 000 people in January 2021.

The number of covid patients in intensive care has reached 211 in England, an increase from 111 at the start of June. This is much lower, however, than the 3700 people in January 2021 when intensive care units were in danger of being overwhelmed.

The number of deaths involving covid-19 in the UK decreased from 335 to 309 in the latest week (ending 17 June 2022). The number of deaths registered in the previous week may have been higher, however, because of the bank holidays on 2 and 3 June. Deaths are also a lagging indicator as there is a delay between a person becoming infected with covid-19 and being admitted to hospital or dying.

Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, said, “This significant rise in infections is worrying and demonstrates that there’s no room for complacency as far as covid is concerned. It’s a wakeup call about our vulnerability to new variants.

“We need to prepare now for the autumn and winter months when colder weather will drive people indoors, increasing the risk of infection not only with new covid variants but also with other respiratory virus infections. Waning immunity means that booster shots will be necessary in the autumn to protect the elderly, clinically vulnerable, and patient facing healthcare workers.”

Stephen Griffin, associate professor in the school of medicine, University of Leeds, said this large increase in infections was “sadly predictable” given the past weeks showing the growth advantage of BA.4 and BA.5 over BA.2 and the R value remaining above 1 across the country. “The constant bombardment of waves we are seeing does cause clinical impact that is not to be underestimated—the lack of a sharp peak for hospital admissions and deaths doesn’t change the overall area under the curve over time. We should also expect for these measures to lag behind the rapid increase in cases.”

From this week the ONS survey will change, with participants sending samples through the post any time over a two week period rather than them being collected. The covid dashboard will also be updated only weekly rather than daily.

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