Covid infections have jumped by almost a third in a week, official data show.
Around 2.3 million people in the UK now have Covid, up by more than half a million, or around 32 per cent, from the previous week.
Covid has not been this prevalent in the community since late-April, but the current wave is still substantially less severe than the all-time peak of 4.9 million infections at the peak of the omicron BA.2 wave earlier this year.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) weekly coronavirus infection survey found that for the week ending June 24, around one in 30 people in England had Covid.
Prevalence was similar in Wales, slightly higher in Northern Ireland (one in 25) and notably higher in Scotland (one in 18).
Data also show infections are rising in all regions and across all age groups, with the ONS attributing blame to BA.4 and BA.5, the now dominant sub variants of omicron which are more infectious than the original strain.
Sarah Crofts, the head of analytical outputs for the Covid-19 Infection Survey, said: “Across the UK we’ve seen a continued increase of over half a million infections, likely caused by the growth of BA.4 and BA.5 variants .
“This rise is seen across all ages, countries and regions of England. We will continue to monitor the data closely to see if this growth continues in the coming weeks.”
The ZOE symptom tracker app, which monitors symptomatic cases of Covid, estimated that as of this week cases are up 27 per cent, indicating the summer wave is not yet abating.
‘New wave could soon exceed 300,000 daily cases’
Professor Tim Spector, scientific co-founder of ZOE, said: “Our ZOE health study data shows the UK is in a new Covid wave that could soon exceed 300,000 daily cases, bringing us to levels seen during the height of the pandemic for the UK .
“Our app based data is reassuringly in line with the ONS survey last week – but their results are lagging behind ours by up to a week.
“The increase is primarily due to the omicron BA.5 Covid variant which is now dominant in the UK. This variant is particularly good at immune escape, causing an increase in reinfections in people in spite of vaccines and natural immunity, particularly over the past few weeks.
“With the large numbers of festivals happening, I predict rates will continue to rise for the next week or so.
“The only good news is that the symptoms are still mild with fewer deaths than in other earlier waves, though worryingly the number of hospitalizations is rapidly increasing.
“I’d still advise people to protect themselves by wearing good quality FFP2 or FFP3 masks in crowded or poorly ventilated areas and testing themselves if possible if they have any Covid symptoms.”
News of the alarming rise in infections comes in the same week that the ONS announced the gold-standard infection survey will be wall back and digitized, leading to criticism from some medics that the standard of data collection will drop.
‘There’s a lot of people letting their guard down’
Prof Denis Kinane, an immunologist and professor at the University of Bern, told The Telegraph that a lot of people “have let their guard down” with Covid.
“I thought it was great to have the Jubilee and all the rest of it and I, like everyone else, am pleased not to be wearing a mask most of the time, but I think we’ve got two or three things that we need all.
“When we’re in crowds, we’ve got to be careful. We’ve got to ideally be vaccinated and we’ve got to keep our distance in enclosed spaces.
“One of the biggest things we have got to do is when we know we have got Covid to isolate and not mix with people or wear masks.
“There’s a lot of people letting their guard down right now. We don’t want to be sleepwalking into a perfect storm here. We’ve got five per cent rates in Scotland right now, that’s an awful lot.”
Data released on Friday also shows that Covid was the biggest killer in England and Wales in 2021, claiming 67,350 lives. The virus accounted for around one in nine of the 586,334 deaths registered in England and Wales last year, ONS data show.
Dementia was the second leading cause of death (61,250) followed by heart disease (56,960).