Covid-19 infections are climbing in the UK with the increase likely to be driven by the latest Omicron variants BA. 4 and BA. 5, figures show.
The number of people in hospital with Covid is also on an upwards trend in most parts of the country, suggesting the virus is becoming steadily more prevalent.
A total of 1.7 million people in private households are estimated to have had the virus last week, up 23 per cent from 1.4 million a week earlier, figures from the Office for National Statistics show.
The rise of 23 per cent is lower than the 43 per cent jump in the previous week’s figures, but it means total infections are now at levels last seen at the end of April.
They are also higher than the peak reached during the second wave of the virus in January 2021.
However, infections are still below the record 4.9 million seen at the peak of the Omicron BA. 2 wave at the end of March this year.
The statistics office said the latest increase was “likely caused by infections compatible with Omicron variants BA. 4 and BA. 5”, which are now thought to be the most dominant strains in much of the UK.
The virus continues to be most prevalent in Scotland, where 250,700 people were likely to test positive for Covid-19 last week, or one in 20.
In England, 1.4 million people were likely to have had the virus last week, the equivalent of about one in 40.
This is up from 1.1 million, or one in 50 people, the previous week.
The percentage of people testing positive is thought to have increased among all age groups in England and all regions except the North East and South East, where the trend is described by the statistics office as “uncertain”.
Infection levels are highest among 25 to 34-year-olds, among whom 3.3 per cent — one in 30 — were likely to have had the virus last week.
Stephen Griffin of the University of Leeds School of Medicine said that Omicron subvariants are fuelling another wave of infections.
“The rate of reinfection with these variants is also dramatically increased and prevalence is increasing across all ages,” he said.
“This highlights the ability of these viruses to evade antibody immunity and the rapidity with which they are causing waves across the globe is concerning.
“Our population immunity and the properties of the virus are continuously changing.”
Separate analysis published on Friday by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) suggested that the Omicron variant BA. 5 is growing approximately 35 per cent faster than BA. 2, while BA. 4 is growing 19 per cent faster — meaning it is likely that BA. 5 will soon become the dominant Covid-19 variant in the UK.
Together, BA. 4 and BA. 5 now make up more than half of new Covid-19 cases in England.
There is “currently no evidence” the two variants cause more serious illness than previous variants, the UKHSA said.
But nearly one in six people aged 75 and over have not received any dose of vaccine in the past six months, putting them more at risk of severe disease.
All people over the age of 75 in the UK have been offered a “spring booster”, available at least three months after their most recent shot, to ensure they continue to receive the maximum possible protection from the virus.
The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 is now on an upwards trend in most parts of the country.
About 6,752 patients in England had Covid-19 on June 24, up 34 pre cent on the previous week, government figures show.
In Scotland, 948 cases were recorded on June 19 — the latest date available — up 27 per cent.