The number of new coronavirus cases across Britain has risen by more than 30 percent in the past week, new data showed on Friday, with cases likely caused by Omicron subvariants.
Data released by the UK Office for National Statistics showed that more than three million people in the UK had COVID-19 last week, although there has been no comparable spike in hospital admissions. The number of COVID-19 deaths has also fallen slightly in the past week.
“COVID-19 has not gone away,” said Dr Mary Ramsay of the Health Security Agency. “It’s also wise to wear a face covering in crowded, enclosed areas,” she said. Britain dropped almost all of its coronavirus measures months ago, including mask-wearing and social distancing, and masks are rarely seen on public transport.
The latest rise in coronavirus cases comes after a previous rise of about 40 percent last month, following major street parties, concerts and festivities held as part of the platinum jubilee celebrations to mark 70 years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign.
UK officials said the latest wave of COVID-19 infections were likely caused by Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5. Omicron tends to cause milder disease than earlier variants like Alpha or Delta, but scientists warn that its ability to evade the immune system means people may be more susceptible to reinfection, including after vaccination.
Despite widespread immunization across Britain, vaccine protection is likely waning and Omicron and its subvariants have evolved to become more contagious.
The UK’s Health Security Agency said it saw more outbreaks in care homes for the elderly and an increase in intensive care unit admissions of people over 65.
dr. Jonathan Van-Tam, a former UK deputy medical chief, told the BBC that COVID-19 is now “much, much, much closer to seasonal flu” than when it first emerged. Still, he said experts should be vigilant for signs the virus is causing more serious illness.
Germany’s Robert Koch Institute also reported a similar rise in the coronavirus, with numbers increasing especially among the elderly, children and teenagers.
France has seen a rise in hospitalizations from COVID-19 and officials recently recommended that people start wearing masks again on public transport.
Globally, the World Health Organization said this week that COVID-19 is on the rise in more than 100 countries. The UN health agency warned that relaxed testing and surveillance measures mean it could be harder to catch emerging variants before they spread more widely.