Covid infection levels hit record high in the UK

Covid infection levels have reached record highs in the UK, as free Covid-19 tests for millions in England are running out.

About 4.9 million people in the UK are estimated to have had Covid-19 during the week ending March 26, up from 4.3 million the previous week, the Office for National Statistics said.

ONS data show that one in 13 people in England is estimated to have had Covid during that week, up from one in 16 the week before, and in Wales the figure is one in 14 people, up from one in 16 the week before. Both are record highs.

From Friday, people in England will have to turn to the main street for tests if they want them.

(PA graphics)

Kara Steel, senior statistician for the ONS Covid-19 infection survey, said: “Infection levels are still high, with the highest levels recorded in our survey seen in England and Wales and remarkable increases among older age groups.

“The rapid increase continues to be driven by the growth of the Omicron BA.2 variant across the UK.”

Professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute at the University of Oxford, said: “Omicron BA.2 is extremely good at infecting humans.

“It is still my opinion that if you are not fully protected or not susceptible to the virus, by the summer you are more likely to have been infected with BA.2 than not.

“This is literally living with the virus by getting infected with it.

“Omicron BA.2 is less serious but the main reason we have endured this wave with many fewer deaths is vaccination.

“Vaccination has meant that the elderly and vulnerable have been able to fight this virus without very serious illness after becoming infected.

“Omicron BA.2 still kills vulnerable unvaccinated.”

Earlier, Professor Tim Spector from King’s College London, which runs the tracking app Zoe Covid, said the timing of the end of the free trial “could not be worse”.

He said England was now in a situation of “having to rely on the public actually doing the right thing and getting these tests themselves when they get sick”.

(PA graphics)
(PA graphics)

He told Times Radio that “if we do not have free testing, let’s have a clear policy on how you should know you are infected and therefore you can isolate yourself.

“To do that, the government must acknowledge that the symptoms of Covid have changed in the last two years and that 80% of people now have cold-like symptoms.

“And there should be a public health campaign to say at the moment, when your chances of getting Covid are greater than a cold … test if you can afford – (and) even if you can not – assume you have Covid.”

ONS data also show that one in 12 people in Scotland is believed to have had Covid during the week ending March 26 and one in 15 in Northern Ireland.

Coronavirus graphics
(PA graphics)

On Thursday, Health Minister Sajid Javid said people must “learn to live with Covid” when campaigns criticized the end of free testing.

He told reporters: “We are one of the most open and free countries in the world now, and it is because of decisions we have made as a country … and that is also right when we learn to live with Covid that we withdraw free testing – universally … if it is no longer needed, but we focus these resources on the people who need it most. And that’s what we do. “

But Carers UK and the Alzheimer’s Society criticized the move, and the latter said it “risks playing” with the lives of people living with dementia.

The Alzheimer’s Society has worked to hold side flow tests free of charge for all who visit loved ones in nursing homes.

While free testing ends in England, it will continue in April in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and until the summer in Wales.

The latest data show that there were 15,632 people in hospitals in England with Covid-19 as of Wednesday, an increase of 18% week by week and the highest since 19 January.

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