Covid cases in UK and France approach record numbers

Britain reports more than 200,000 daily cases while French hospital admissions rise sharply

France lifted most Covid restrictions earlier in March and is seeing a consequent surge in cases and hospital admissions. AP
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Covid-19 cases in UK and France are approaching record highs, fuelled by the BA2 sub-variant of the highly transmissible Omicron variant which is now the dominant global strain.

In the UK, the government's daily coronavirus dashboard reported 215,000 new infections on Monday.

With fewer people now testing, a more realistic representation of Covid prevalence is believed to be provided by the weekly Office for National Statistics’ weekly Covid Infection Survey, which suggested 4.26 million people had the virus, just under the record 4.3 million infections in the first week of 2022.

Narrowing down to England, cases are approaching a new record, with an estimated 3,485,700, or one in 16, people having the virus in the week ended March 19.

“Our latest data show infection levels have continued to increase in England, Wales and Scotland, driven by the rise of the Omicron BA. 2 variant,” Sarah Crofts of the ONS said in a statement.

“Northern Ireland was a few weeks ahead of the rest of the UK in this rising variant where we now see a welcome decrease. Meanwhile, Scotland has now reached the highest level of any UK country seen in our survey"

“Across England, infections have increased in all regions and age groups, notably the over 50s who are at their highest levels since our survey began,” said Ms Crofts.

The rise in cases among older cohorts is being reflected in rising Covid hospital admissions, with 17,685 in hospital with Covid on March 25.

The Scottish government reported a record 2,383 Covid hospital admissions in Scotland alone on March 28. However, the number of people in mechanical ventilation beds in Scotland fell to 20.

Across the UK as a whole the number remains stable, reflecting the success of vaccines in reducing the severity of the virus.

France is also contending with surging cases and on Monday reported the number of patients receiving hospital treatment for Covid over the past 24 hours leapt from 467 to 21,073, the highest daily rise since the beginning of February.

Of the French patients in hospital, 1,553 were in an intensive care unit as of Monday.

BA2 ascends to global dominance

The surge in Covid cases both in Europe and globally has been driven by BA. 2 which now represents nearly 86 per cent of all sequenced cases, the World Health Organisation said on Monday.

It is even more transmissible than its highly contagious Omicron siblings, BA. 1 and BA. 1.1, however the evidence so far suggests that it is no more likely to cause severe disease.

As with the other variants in the Omicron family, vaccines are less effective against BA. 2 than against previous variants like Alpha or the original strain of coronavirus, and protection declines over time. However, according to UK Health Security Agency data, protection is restored by a booster jab, particularly for preventing hospital admission and death.

This may explain why some European countries are now seeing a slower uptick in new cases, or even a decline.

Updated: March 29, 2022, 2:26 PM