Britain’s resurging Covid outbreak showed no signs of slowing today as daily cases and hospital admissions rose once more.
Government dashboard data shows there were 71,259 infections confirmed over the past 24 hours, the highest in over a month and up 56 per cent on last Thursday.
Cases have been climbing for over a week, with the trend thought to be down to a combination of lifting the final restrictions in England and the rise of a more infectious version of Omicron.
Latest hospital data shows there were 1,406 virus admissions on March 6, up a third on the previous week and the seventh day in a row they have risen week-on-week.
Experts tracking the pandemic noticed that admissions began to spike before cases, despite there normally being a week-lag in the other direction.
There are a number of theories for the trend, including that the rise in infections was masked by the central testing being scaled back. Others have suggested it may be the early signs of booster jab immunity waning, following the initial roll out in September.
Whitehall sources say they are not ‘overly worried’ about the increase, although they insisted they were keeping an eye on the numbers.
Fourth jabs are set to be dished out later this month to over-75s, care home residents and people with weakened immune systems, who are most vulnerable to the virus.
Meanwhile, there were another 142 Covid deaths registered today in a 27 per cent drop on last Thursday. It brings the seven-day average number of fatalities to 104. MailOnline’s analysis of separate figures suggests Covid is now less deadly than the flu.
The above graph shows the infection fatality rate for Covid in England (red line). Since Omicron became dominant in the UK it has dropped dramatically and is now around the same level as flu (blue area). Scientists today said it was certainly possible that Covid is now as deadly as flu. But they warned future variants could change the calculation
Government figures indicate the virus had a mortality rate of around 0.2 per cent before the ultra-transmissible strain erupted onto the scene. But this has since plunged seven-fold to as little as 0.03 per cent, meaning it kills effectively just one in every 3,300 people who get infected.
For comparison, seasonal influenza’s infection-fatality rate (IFR) sits between 0.01 and 0.05 per cent, suggesting that the two viruses now pose a similar threat.
Is Putin to blame for the UK’s Covid surge?
Britain’s Covid outbreak may be rebounding because Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed the virus out of the headlines, scientists say.
Covid — which has dominated the news cycle for almost two years — has been dwarfed by the war in Ukraine, which has gripped the world and produced harrowing images of civilian casualties on a daily basis.
The crisis is causing Britons to act ‘less carefully… now the virus is off the news essentially’, according to Professor Gary McLean, an immunologist at London Metropolitan University.
But he added that Ukraine was just one piece of the puzzle. ‘It’s almost like a perfect storm of several things has resulted in reduced care even though the virus is circulating at still high levels and immunity is slowly waning,’ he told MailOnline.
Government adviser Professor Stephen Reicher, a behavioural scientist on SAGE, said the Ukraine crisis was giving the impression Covid had become ‘yesterday’s news’.
But he warned people were already changing their behaviour before Russia’s invasion, as No10’s rhetoric pivoted and ministers began stressing that we need to learn to live with Covid.
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert from the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline it meant that Covid could actually be even less deadly than the flu. Although, he warned another variant could reverse the progress.
The UK is now now averaging 53,000 cases per day compared to around 35,000 on Freedom Day in late February.
Dr Raghib Ali, an epidemiologist at Cambridge University who advised No10 throughout the Omicron wave, said it was ‘unlikely’ that there would be a ‘large’ spike in hospitalisations or deaths.
However, Covid hospitalisations have been rising, with 1,300 people being admitted across the UK on average now compared to 2,500 at peak Omicron.
NHS figures suggest that up to 60 per cent of patients in English hospitals are not primarily sick with Covid, however.
Scientists have credited the build-up of immunity after repeated waves of the virus, the vaccine rollout and the fact Omicron is inherently milder than older forms of the virus.
England has been somewhat of a European outlier since the Covid vaccines first started to be rolled out.
It dropped most restrictions last summer despite high levels of Delta circulating and stayed open during the Omicron wave when many in the EU reimposed draconian lockdowns.
While at times it has meant England has had consistently high infection rates, scientists believe the strategy has given the country an unusually high level of immunity.
A rapid and successful booster rollout combined with the mild Omicron wave helped severe the link between infection and severe illness even more.
These factors have given ministers the confidence to ease all restrictions in England, taking the country out of economically-crippling restriction cycles and moving into a new phase of ‘living with Covid’.
MailOnline compared estimates on the number of people catching Covid every day in England against deaths registered two weeks later — roughly how long it takes for patients to succumb to the illness.
Data from NHS England shows one in nine people in the country were waiting for routine treatment — such as joint replacement and cataract surgery — or diagnostic tests as of the end of January
Infection figures were taken from the Office for National Statistics’ gold-standard infection survey, which randomly swabs tens of thousands of people every week to gauge how prevalent the virus is across the UK.
Fatality figures were also taken from the ONS’s weekly death analysis, that looks at the number of death certificates in which the virus was mentioned.
NHS waiting list hits ANOTHER record high
NHS waiting lists for routine operations have hit yet another record high of 6.1million, the first official data for 2022 show.
An additional 30,000 people were on the list for routine operations such as hip and knee replacements and cataract surgery in January compared to December.
The 6.1m toll is 2m higher than when the pandemic hit, when NHS elective care was effectively frozen for months.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has come under increasing pressure to get a handle on the crisis, with charities warning that millions of Brits are living in pain while waiting for their surgeries.
The number of people waiting over a year to start treatment increased to 311,528 in January, up from around only 1,400 before Covid hit.
The Government and NHS England have vowed to eliminate all waits of more than a year by March 2025 as part of their pandemic recovery plan. The health service will get an extra £12billion a year from April, funded by the 1.25 per cent hike to national insurance.
Almost 24,000 have been waiting at least two years for treatment, up from 20,065 in December, and over nine times the 2,608 who were waiting in April 2021.
These patients will be contacted by the end of the month to be offered alternative appointments in places where queues aren’t as long or in private hospitals. Their transport and accommodation fees will be covered.
Out of the 52,000 estimated new infections a day in early September, when the Delta variant was still dominant, an average of 110 deaths involving the virus were being registered a fortnight later.
This equated to an infection-fatality ratio of around 0.2 per cent, or one in 500 infections resulting in a death.
But by the height of the Omicron wave, this had plunged three-fold with roughly 120 out of 190,000 daily cases dying two weeks later (0.06 per cent) — or one in 1,500 infections.
The most up-to-date IFR in the analysis — based on an estimated 245,000 people getting infected every day on and 83 deaths a fortnight later — stands at just 0.03 per cent.
For comparison, the IFR was thought to be above one per cent at the start of the pandemic when the novel virus first hit the human population and there was no immunity.
Professor Hunter told MailOnline: ‘The recent data suggests Covid is now less deadly than flu, but there remains uncertainty about the impact of future variants.
‘This is mainly down to immunity, though Omicron (possibly excluding BA.2) is also less virulent.’
When asked about a similar analysis done by the Financial Times, Dr Ali said: ‘Is Omicron the same as flu? No. But the vaccines have made the risks to the individual very similar.’
Real-time IFR can vary drastically in every nation based on previous immunity, prevalence of obesity and other medical conditions, and the population age structure.
Government dashboard data shows vaccine uptake is high across the UK, providing what has been described as a ‘wall of immunity’ against the virus.
About 85 per cent of over-12s in Britain have already got two doses of the Covid vaccine, figures show.
While 66 per cent have also got the booster jab, although among the over-70s who are most at risk from the virus uptake rises to above 90 per cent.
The NHS is currently preparing to roll out a fourth Covid jab for the over-75s and the most vulnerable, including care home residents and everyone over 12 with a weakened immune system. The rollout is set to begin in just a week and a half.
Even more groups could be invited in the autumn to raise protection ahead of winter, ministers have hinted.
A total of 30million Britons — or half the population — have also already been infected with Covid, according to No10’s top scientific advisers, in another boost for immunity levels.
But despite these high immunity levels, Covid infections have risen across the country consistently for an entire week.