England’s next Covid wave has officially started, leading experts declared today as two months of tumbling cases were brought to an end.
Government statisticians tasked with tracking the outbreak estimate 766,500 people were infected on any day last week — up 8.6 per cent on the previous weekly toll.
It marks the first rise in infections since mid-July, when the summer wave peaked and ministers faced calls to bring back pandemic-era restrictions.
Covid hospital admissions are also on the up, piling extra pressure on overwhelmed NHS facilities ahead of what is feared will be another disastrous winter for the crisis-stricken health service.
Public health chiefs have warned rates will continue to spiral as the colder weather approaches and we spend more time indoors, where the virus finds it easier to spread.
Experts believe the increase is likely due to a back to school effect, as well as Britons returning from the summer holidays.
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline: ‘We know from that travel overseas is a big risk factor – we saw this time last year infections starting to rise before schools went back. That’s people picking up the virus and bringing it back from holidays in this country and abroad.
‘And waning immunity is probably playing a role because latest data suggests boosters only really protect against infection for about three months.’
Government statisticians tasked with tracking the outbreak estimate 766,500 people were infected on any day last week — up 8.6 per cent on the previous weekly toll. It marks the first rise in infections since mid-July, when the summer wave peaked and ministers faced calls to bring back pandemic-era restrictions
Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UK Health Security Agency, said rates were ‘still low’ but there was clearly an uptick.
She said: ‘For those eligible, the time to get your autumn booster is now. Getting a booster will give your immune system time to build up your protection against being severely ill from Covid as we move into winter.
‘As it gets colder and we head towards winter, we will start to see respiratory infections pick up – please try to stay at home if you are unwell and avoid contact with vulnerable people.’
Weekly estimates published by the ONS, which are closely watched by the Government, are considered the most accurate way of tracking the shape of the UK’s outbreak.
Unlike the toll of reported infections, which has been wildly inaccurate since the mass testing scheme was wound down in April, it doesn’t rely on Britons testing themselves and reporting the result.
Cases also rose in Wales (prevalence of 39,700, up 40.8 per cent). Yet they fell in Scotland (98,800, down 13.0 per cent) and Northern Ireland (22,900, down 32.0 per cent).
The figures, reflecting the week ending September 14, are based on swabs from thousands of people.
Sarah Crofts, deputy director of the ONS Covid Infection Survey, said: ‘Today’s data show a mixed picture across the UK, with increases in England and Wales while infections in Scotland and Northern Ireland have decreased.
‘It is too early to see if these changing trends will continue, and we will monitor the data closely to see any impact of the return of schools over the coming weeks.’
The most up-to-date NHS England statistics show Covid pressures are also rising in hospitals, reflecting the rise in the community.
Some 781 virus-related admissions were logged on September 19, with the figure up by roughly 17 per cent on the previous week.
Yet the toll is just a fraction of levels seen during the darkest days of the pandemic, when 4,000-plus new patients were needing NHS care every day.
In addition, not all of these patients require treatment for the virus.
Only a third of infected patients occupying NHS beds are primarily ill with Covid, with the rest incidentally testing positive and receiving care for other conditions such as a broken leg or heart disease.
And the number of patients being treated directly for Covid is roughly an eighth of that of so-called bed-blockers.
But the virus appears to be spreading quickly on NHS wards. Likely hospital-acquired infections have risen by nearly 50 per cent to 1,133 in England in the last week.
Despite Covid pressures being expected to rise in the coming weeks, Liz Truss’s Government is unlikely to bring back any curbs after her old boss Boris Johnson chose the ‘living with Covid’ approach.
Under the blueprint designed to free Britain from its Covid shackles in a post-lockdown world, mandatory isolation rules, free testing and work from home guidance was scrapped.
Ministers instead put their confidence in vaccines, which have drastically blunted the threat of the virus over time, morphing it into something that closer resembles flu — a seasonal virus the country lives with every year.
This month saw the official launch of the Covid autumn booster programme, which is now open to the over-65s, carers and pregnant women.
Some 26million people in the UK will be offered their booster top-up in the coming months.