Covid in England’s over 55s jumps to second-highest rate in two years

Authors of latest study believe surge of infections could be fuelled by more social mixing since curbs were lifted

An increase in Covid-19 among people over 55 has been recorded in England. Reuters

Covid-19 cases in people over 55 in England are on the rise, a health chief has said, as she dismissed the idea that the pandemic is effectively over.

Overall infections have plummeted since the Omicron peak in January, latest data shows, but a surge of cases has been detected in this age group.

The latest findings from the React-1 study, covering February 8 to March 1 – round 18 of the study – show that prevalence in England during this period was 2.88 per cent.

While the figure was less than the 4.41 per cent covering January 5 to January 20 during the height of Omicron, it was the second-highest rate recorded since the study started in 2020.

Over the entire period of data collection, about one in 35 people in England has been infected with the coronavirus.

Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said the increase in infections among over-55s, coupled with the spread of the BA.2 sub-lineage of Omicron, was cause for concern.

She said the public should expect “high levels” of the virus to be in circulation.

The easing of Covid-19 restrictions may have fuelled the surge in infections among over 55s in England, researchers say. EPA

“These data confirm that cases have declined substantially following the peak of the Omicron wave,” she said.

“However, the increasing presence of the BA.2 sub-lineage of Omicron and the recent slight increase in infections in those over 55 show that the pandemic is not over and that we can expect to see Covid circulating at high levels.

“Vaccination remains the best way to protect us all from severe disease due to Covid-19 infection. We urge you to come forward for your primary or booster doses straight away if you have not already done so.”

The rise in case numbers among those 55 and older could be down to a numbers factors, researchers say. They cited more mixing between age groups since UK restrictions eased, and the waning of the vaccine booster.

Prof Paul Elliott, director of Imperial College London’s React programme, said the figures indicate overall infection numbers could now rise in England.

Asked whether the increasing rates of BA.2 could lead to a surge in new cases, Prof Elliott said: “It is more transmissible.

“We are seeing an uptick in infections, particularly in the older group, and we are seeing an uptick in hospitalisations.

“We really need to be monitoring closely the infection data through surveys such as React and we need to monitor the hospitalisations.

“At the moment, we’re possibly seeing the beginning of an uptick but we don’t know where it’s going to go.”

The data from the React study has been published as a preprint paper.

Updated: March 10, 2022, 8:38 AM