COVID-19 cases rose more than 30% in Britain last week, data shows

The number of new coronavirus cases across Britain rose by more than 30% in the past week, according to new data released on Friday, with the cases likely due to subvariants of Omicron.

Data released by the UK Office for National Statistics showed more than three million people in the UK had COVID-19 last week, although there was no equivalent spike in hospitalisations. The number of deaths from COVID-19 also fell slightly last week.

« COVID-19 has not gone away, » said Dr Mary Ramsay, of the Health Security Agency. « It’s also a good idea to wear a face covering in crowded, enclosed spaces, » she said. Britain dropped almost all of its coronavirus measures, including mask-wearing and social distancing, months ago and masks are rarely seen on public transport.

The latest jump in coronavirus cases comes after an earlier rise of around 40% last month, following major street parties, concerts and festivities as part of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations marking 70 years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

UK officials said the latest wave of COVID-19 infections were likely caused by Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants. Omicron tended to cause milder disease than previous variants like Alpha or Delta, but scientists warn that its ability to evade the immune system means people may be more susceptible to re-infection, including after vaccination.

Despite widespread vaccination across Britain, vaccine protection is likely to be waning and Omicron and its subvariants have evolved to become more infectious.

The UK Health Security Agency said it was seeing more outbreaks in care homes for the elderly and an increase in admissions to intensive care units of people over 65.

Dr Jonathan Van-Tam, the UK’s former deputy chief medical officer, told the BBC that COVID-19 is now « much, much, much closer to seasonal flu » than when it first emerged. Still, he said experts should be vigilant for any signs the virus is causing more serious illness.

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute has also reported a similar rise in the coronavirus, with cases rising particularly among the elderly, children and teenagers.

France has seen an increase in the rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations and authorities recently recommended that people start wearing masks on public transport again.

Globally, the World Health Organization said this week that COVID-19 is increasing in more than 100 countries. The UN health agency has warned that the relaxation of testing and surveillance measures means it could be harder to catch emerging variants before they spread more widely.


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