Covid-19 infections are falling in the UK for the first time in two months — a sign that the latest wave may have peaked.
About 3.2 million people are estimated to have had Covid in the week to July 20, down 16 per cent from 3.8 million the previous week, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported.
“Our most recent data suggest that we may now be over the peak of the latest wave of infections across the UK, although rates still remain among the highest seen during the course of the pandemic,” said Sarah Crofts, ONS head of analytical output for the Covid-19 infection survey.
“We have seen welcome decreases among most parts of the UK and in all age groups.
“With summer holidays starting and more people travelling, we will continue to closely monitor the data.”
This is the first time infections have fallen since the week ending May 28 — but cases are not on a clear downwards trend in all parts of the country.
The BA.5 Omicron mutation, now the dominant form of Covid-19 in the country, is behind the latest wave of cases.
But high levels of coronavirus antibodies among the population, either from vaccination or previous infection, mean the number of people seriously ill or dying from the virus remains low.
James Naismith, of the University of Oxford, said it is “encouraging” to see the current wave “falling backwards”, and that the prevalence of the virus “will have fallen further” since the latest estimates were compiled.
“The vaccines have proved extraordinarily effective at lowering serious illness and deaths,” he said.
“They are less effective at preventing infection. Many people have had multiple bouts of Covid-19 and being infected does not give a magical immunity — vaccination is by the far the safest way to protect oneself against serious illness.
“This wave put the health service under significant pressure, which also appears to be easing.”
An estimated 2.6 million people in England are believed to have had coronavirus in the week to July 20, the ONS said. That is down from 3.1 million.
In Scotland, 272,000 people were estimated to have had the virus in the most recent week, a decline from the previous week, during which 340,900 cases were recorded.
Wales has reported that infections have fallen to 156,200, down from 183,200.
Northern Ireland is the only UK nation to have recorded a week-on-week rise in prevalence, though the ONS describes the trend as “uncertain”. Infections there have increased to an estimated 113,400, up from 88,400.