UK Covid cases break 250,000-a-day for first time since mid-April after BA.4 and BA.5 surge

Daily infections are now as high as they have been for all but a month of the pandemic in the UK

UK Covid cases break 250,000-a-day for first time since mid-April after BA.4 and BA.5 surge

Covid cases have passed the 250,000-a-day Mark (Photo: Henry Nicholls/PA Wire)

By Tom BawdenScience & Environment Correspondent

Covid cases have passed the 250,000-a-day mark in the UK, rising by 130 per cent in just three weeks.

And new daily cases are at the highest level they have been for all but a month of the pandemic so far.

Daily symptomatic cases have well over doubled this month, rising from 113,030 on June 1 to 262,380 on Friday, according to the latest figures on the ZOE Covid Study app.

That’s an increase of 148,350 cases, or 130 per cent, in just over three weeks – putting rates well above any peak seen before this year, although still some way behind the record of 349,011, on March 31 this year.

New infection levels have only ever been above 250,000-a-day in the UK between mid March and mid April this year.

Scientists say the rapid growth of the new Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5 is the main driver of the increase.

These are more transmissable than the previous dominant Omicron sub-variant, BA.2 – although it is unclear whether that is because they are fundamentally more infectious or better at evading immunity from vaccination and prior infection – or both.

Waning immunity and the increasing return to relative normality are also playing a role, experts say.

“The Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 are fuelling another wave of infections, our third already this year,” said Steve Griffin, a virologist at the University of Leeds.

“The rate of reinfection with these variants is also dramatically increased and prevalence is increasing across all ages.

“This highlights the ability of these viruses to evade antibody immunity and the rapidity with which they are causing waves across the globe is concerning.

“Our population immunity and the properties of the virus are continuously changing. Comparisons to the pre-vaccine era are of course reassuring, but the idea that this race has been run to the best of our ability is nonsense. A pandemic is just that, there are no exceptions until it ends for all,” Dr Griffin said.

Tim Spector, the King’s College London professor who runs the ZOE app, told i last week that he was hopeful that infection rates would start coming down in the second half of July.

“Given that schools are finishing soon, hopefully we’ll have a little bit of a respite in the summer holidays,” he said.

“I think these increases will carry on for a couple of weeks into July and then should hopefully plateau and drop a little bit. But no one’s expecting them to fall away completely or dramatically,” he added.

Separate analysis published on Friday by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) suggests the Omicron variant BA.5 is growing approximately 35 per cent faster than BA.2, while BA.4 is growing 19 per cent faster – meaning it is likely that BA.5 will soon become the dominant Covid-19 variant in the UK.

Together, BA.4 and BA.5 now make up more than half of new Covid-19 cases in England.

Professor Susan Hopkins, UKHSA chief medical adviser, said: “It is clear that the increasing prevalence of Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 are significantly increasing the case numbers we have observed in recent weeks.

“We have seen a rise in hospital admissions in line with community infections but vaccinations are continuing to keep ICU admissions and deaths at low levels.

“As prevalence increases, it’s more important than ever that we all remain alert, take precautions, and ensure that we’re up to date with Covid-19 vaccinations, which remain our best form of defence against the virus,” she said.

“Our data also show that 17.5 per cent of people aged 75 years and over have not had a vaccine within the past six months, putting them more at risk of severe disease. We urge these people in particular to get up to date,” Professor Hopkins said.

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