The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 in two regions of England has climbed to the highest level for more than a year, in the latest evidence of a resurgence of the virus.
South-east England has now joined the south-west in recording patient levels last seen in February 2021, surpassing the peaks reached in the previous surge of infections at the start of 2022.
A total of 1,956 people with Covid-19 were in hospital in the south-east on March 21, the highest since February 19 last year, new figures from NHS England show.
And in south-west England 1,365 patients were registered on March 21, the highest since February 9, 2021.
In both regions, about half of people in hospital with Covid-19 are being treated primarily for something other than coronavirus.
But the rise in patients testing positive for Covid — up 26 per cent week-on-week in the south-west and 20 per cent in the south-east — is another sign of the growing prevalence of the virus across the country.
The total number of people in hospital with Covid-19 in England currently stands at 12,753, up 21 per cent week-on-week and the highest since February 1 this year.
In Scotland, patient levels have hit a record, with 2,128 recorded on Sunday, beating the previous peak of 2,053 in January 2021.
Across the UK as a whole, 14,948 people with Covid were in hospital on March 18, up 22 per cent week-on-week.
This is still below the recent UK peak of 20,047 on January 10.
It is also well below the UK peak of 39,255, which was reached during the second wave of the virus on January 18, 2021.
Eastern England is likely to be the next region to pass its January 2022 peak, with 1,484 Covid patients on March 21 — slightly below the 1,497 reached on January 10 this year.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Monday that despite the jump in infections and patients in hospital, there was “no particular cause for concern”.
Mr Javid told BBC Breakfast that numbers were “still way below their peak”, with the latest rise “primarily due to the increased social mixing we’re seeing after the country’s opened up, but also the BA. 2 sub-variant of Omicron — which we know is on the one hand more infectious but, on the other hand, we know that our vaccines work just as well against this sub-variant".
“Taking all that into account, of course we keep the data under review, but there’s no particular cause for concern at this point,” he said.
Figures published on Friday by the Office for National Statistics showed that infection levels are continuing to rise across most of the UK, with 3.3 million people estimated to have had coronavirus in the week to March 12, up from 2.6 million the previous week.
At the start of the year, the figure stood at a record 4.3 million.
About 376,300 people in Scotland, or about one in 14, were estimated to have Covid-19 in the week to March 12 — a record. These figures are up from the 299,900 people, or one in 18, recorded the previous week.