Covid cases are rising in the UK, new figures reveal, sparking fears of a winter wave of the virus - but experts say infections may already have peaked. A weekly infection survey by the Office for National Statistics estimated more than 2 million people had the virus in the week ending October 10 - around one in 30 people - a rise of 15.4 per cent on the week before.
Although there is a slight lag in the data due to the reporting process, the survey showed rates rising in people aged between 50 and 69, but falling in children and other adults. However, the rate of the increase appears to be slowing in parts of the country, indicating infections may have peaked. In the South West, North East, and London, rates levelled off in the week of October 10, while they fell in the East Midlands, North West and east of England.
Meanwhile, data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) showed the rate of infection among hospital patients and healthcare workers was also falling.
Prof Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said while cases are continuing to rise, the falling rate of increase is ‘more encouraging’. “The rate of increase continues to slow, a signal that the wave is no longer growing exponentially and may be beginning to peak,” he said. “This week’s data on symptoms data from the ZOE app suggest cases are starting to fall. ONS data tend to track ZOE data with a lag of about two weeks.
“The ONS data suggest that cases are flat or falling in 5 of 9 English regions and in Scotland and Northern Ireland (though not Wales). Cases are also falling in most age groups, the main exception being the 50-69 year olds; almost one in 25 in this age group were infected on October 10. It is encouraging that prevalence is starting to fall in the over 70s – this should be mirrored in hospitalisations in the next week or two. Prevalence remains lowest in young and school-aged children, confirming that the return to school is not the driver of Covid-19 waves.”
He said, ‘all in all’, it appears the current wave is peaking, or may already have peaked, at a lower level than previous waves this year. “It is, however, difficult to know whether or when there will be further waves, not least because we cannot predict the appearance of new variants,” Prof Woolhouse added. “High-quality surveillance of cases and of variants is essential for assessing the likely impact of Covid-19 on the NHS and on our day-to-day lives through the coming winter.”
How is UK preparing for a Covid-19 winter wave?
An Autumn Booster programme of vaccinations was rolled out from September, with older age groups being urged to take up the jab to protect them over the winter period. The latest figures from the NHS show more than 9.8 million people have had the jab so far, up to October 21.
People eligible for the Autumn Booster will be contacted by the NHS. Currently, the scheme is open to people aged over 50 and some who are at greater risk. For more details, and to book a jab, visit the NHS website.