Politics

Warning over new Covid wave in UK from Independent SAGE scientist as ONS figures show rise 



A leading scientist says the UK should be bracing itself for a fresh wave of Covid. It came as the Office for National Statistics revealed a mixed picture with a “small increase” in positive tests in England and Northern Ireland – while the trend in Wales and Scotland remained unclear.

The ONS swab data, which give the most reliable picture of the state of the UK outbreak, suggest that the steady fall in infections over recent months may have gone into reverse as cases are driven up by the more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

According to the ONS survey, an estimated 797,500 people (1 in 70) in England and 27,700 (1 in 65) in Northern Ireland would have tested positive for Covid in the week ending 2 June, up from 784,100 and 24,300 respectively in the week before. It was one in 75 in Wales.

READ MORE: Hospitality venues in North Wales forced to turn people away

Professor Christina Pagel says she expects infections to jump later this month. Prof Pagel, from University College London, told a briefing of the Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies: “We will have a new wave of infections this month. Now hopefully it won’t be as high as the previous two waves and might be lower. But we can’t count on that and either way we are going to see more people becoming infected.”

There are four variants of Omicron “all increasing rapidly” at the moment, according to Prof Pagel, whereas the previous wave in March had two variants.

She said “It’s not a surprise that we have a new wave can see in the data. What’s happened is that people don’t want to look, and we’re kind of closing our eyes to it. This is now our third wave in six months. So we had kind of six months of Delta we’re now every two months of Omicron. The Omicron children are better than Omicron successively, that didn’t happen with Delta.”

It comes as separate figures suggest the recent drop in the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 may also have come to a halt.

A total of 989,800 people in private households in the UK are estimated to have had the virus in the week ending June 2, up from 953,900 the previous week, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It is the first time total infections have risen week-on-week since the end of March, when the number hit a record 4.9 million at the peak of the Omicron BA.2 wave. All four nations have seen a slight rise in the prevalence of the virus, though the ONS describes the trend in Scotland and Wales as “uncertain”.

In Scotland, 124,100 people were likely to have had the virus last week, or one in 40, up from 105,900, or one in 50. Wales has seen Covid-19 infections increase very slightly to an estimated 40,500 people, or one in 75, up from 39,600, also one in 75.

“Across all four UK countries, the percentage of people testing positive for Covid-19 compatible with Omicron variants BA.1, BA.4 and BA.5 increased in the week ending June 2 2022,” the ONS said.

Omicron BA.1 is the original variant of Omicron that caused a surge in infections across the UK in December and early January. BA.4 and BA.5 are newer variants that were recently classified by the UK Health Security Agency as “variants of concern”, after analysis found both were likely to have a “growth advantage” over BA.2, which is still the dominant strain in the country.

Initial findings suggest BA.4 and BA.5 have a degree of “immune escape”, meaning the immune system can no longer recognise or fight a virus, which is likely to contribute to their growth advantage over BA.2, the UKHSA said. The latest estimates for Covid-19 infections come as separate figures show the recent fall in the number of people in hospital with the virus may have come to a stop.

Some 4,082 patients in England had Covid-19 on June 9, up 6% on the previous week, while in Scotland 637 patients were recorded on June 5, the latest date available, up 8% week on week. Patient numbers in both nations had previously been on a steady downwards trend since early April, following the peak of the Omicron BA.2 wave.

In Wales and Northern Ireland, the figures for people in hospital with the virus have levelled off in recent days. Patient numbers across the UK remain well below the peaks reached during previous waves of the virus.

The percentage of people testing positive for Covid-19 in England is estimated to have increased among 35 to 49-year-olds, with early signs of a rise among people from school year 12 to age 24, the ONS added. The trend in the most recent week was “uncertain” in all other age groups.

Among the regions of England, infection levels are estimated to have risen in the North West, London and the South East, with early signs of an increase in eastern England. Levels have fallen in the South West and the West Midlands while the trend in all other regions was uncertain.





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