A new wave of Covid, driven by new Omicron variants, is taking hold across the UK, according to the latest infection survey from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
In response, the Welsh Government has decided to extend availability of free lateral flow testing devices for another month.
The ONS report, published today, said 1 in 40 people in England were likely infected (2.5% of the population); 1 in 45 in Wales (2.25%); 1 in 30 in Northern Ireland (3.26%); and 1 in 20 (4.76%) in Scotland.
The rise in cases, measured last week, was ‘likely caused by infections compatible with Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5’, the ONS said.
The Government also adjusted the R range for England to 1.1 to 1.4 on Friday, with a the growth rate range for Covid infection in England estimated as +2% to +5% per day.
Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds, warned that vaccination ‘mitigates the rate at which symptomatic SARS-CoV2 infection develops into severe disease, ICU admissions, and deaths’, it ‘does not completely remove it’.
He said: ‘As predicted for many weeks hence, the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 are fuelling another wave of infections – our third already this year.
‘The rate of reinfection with these variants is also dramatically increased and prevalence is increasing across all ages. This highlights the ability of these viruses to evade antibody immunity and the rapidity with which they are causing waves across the globe is concerning.’
Dr Griffin, who is a member of Independent SAGE, also criticised the recent downgrading of infection control measures in England, saying that ‘we remain in a situation where even the NHS are being told by the Government that protections aren’t necessary’, which he commented was ‘surely a self-defeating attitude for a service already struggling with under-staffing and lack of adequate resource’.
Since the beginning of June, patients who enter GP practices in England are no longer required to wear a face mask unless they have respiratory symptoms.
The English public lost access to free Covid testing from 1 April, however the Welsh Government today announced that it will extend access to free lateral flow tests for people with Covid symptoms until 31 July.
Director of the Welsh NHS Confederation Darren Hughes said: ‘NHS leaders across Wales welcome the extension of access to free LFD testing for those with Covid symptoms. This will enable us to better protect staff and patients as the NHS continues its recovery efforts to treat people as soon as possible.
‘This is of course in light of the rapid rise in Covid cases in our communities. Although the NHS is not seeing significant increases in those needing treatment for Covid, increased transmission has a huge impact on the delivery of care in hospitals and other settings, including on patients needing long overdue operations and those waiting to be discharged from hospital into social care settings.’
With the NHS already ‘reporting increasing staff absences due to Covid’, ‘we need to do everything we can, within reason, to stem transmission of the virus’, he added.
‘It’s important we continue to wear masks in healthcare settings and remain vigilant at a time when the NHS is doing everything it can to cope with high levels of incoming demand and the huge backlog of planned care.’