Coronavirus infections rose for a fourth successive week in England, with one in 45 people testing positive in the seven days to December 9, the Office for National Statistics said on Friday, up from one in 50 the previous week.
Hospital admissions for Covid-19 and influenza are also rising fast, particularly among the elderly, according to the UK Health Security Agency.
A winter wave of Covid-19 is gathering pace in Scotland too, where infections rose to one in 40 from one in 50 the previous week.
“Over half of English regions saw an increase, while it’s a mixed picture for different ages,” said Sarah Crofts, ONS deputy director for Covid survey analysis. “Infections have increased among most adults under 70, while secondary school age children experienced a decrease in infections.”
Infections in England had reached a low point of one in 65 in mid-November, while the survey found that one in 30 were infected at the peak of the autumn wave in early October.
Increasing Covid infections are pushing up the numbers of people ill enough to be admitted to hospital. The UKHSA said England’s weekly hospitalisation rate for Covid rose to 9.56 per 100,000 population from 6.61 in the previous week, the fifth consecutive increase.
Flu hospitalisations rose too, though not quite as fast as Covid, reaching 8.27 per 100,000 according to the UKHSA. But the number of patients admitted to intensive care or a high dependence unit was higher for flu than for Covid for the first time since the start of the pandemic early in 2020.
Mary Ramsay, director of public health programmes at UKHSA, said: “We are seeing a rise in cases and hospital admissions for both flu and Covid-19 as people continue to mix indoors this winter. Hospitalisation rates due to Covid-19 remain highest in those aged 65 and over.”
“We can all take actions to stop flu and other infections spreading,” added Susan Hopkins, UKHSA chief medical adviser, such as washing hands regularly and keeping rooms ventilated. “If you feel unwell try to stay home, and if you have to go out, wear a face covering in enclosed spaces.”
Meaghan Kall, a senior UKHSA epidemiologist, tweeted that the country was building up to a “sort of crescendo” of winter infections. “We are concerned about a twindemic [flu and Covid] but reality is more complex with multiple viruses co-circulating at higher than normal levels for this time of year,” she said. These include respiratory syncytial virus, norovirus and several others.
However Covid continues to receive most attention from epidemiologists. Scientists continue to look out for the emergence of dangerous new coronavirus mutations but the current wave of infections “does not seem to be driven by any one variant in particular”, Kall said.
Also on Friday the UKHSA epidemiology modelling group released projections for Covid hospitalisations and deaths, which suggested that both would continue rising until early January.
At the same time the agency published what it said would be the final estimate of what used to be a much watched Covid indicator: the R value, showing the average number of secondary infections produced by someone with coronavirus.
“There is increased uncertainty in both national and regional estimates at present, which make trends in data streams less clear,” UKHSA said. The R range for England is 1.0 to 1.2, indicating a growth rate between 0 and 4 per cent a day.