Downing Street today confirmed it is keeping tabs on the two Omicron variant spin-offs responsible for a recent spike in Covid infections.
Boris Johnson’s official spokesman claimed the situation was being monitored ‘very closely’ amid early signs that hospitalisations are also starting to rise. He insisted the Government was not considering imposing further curbs at this point and would stick to its ‘living with Covid’ plan.
Covid cases have nearly doubled in a fortnight in England and more than 1,000 virus-infected patients are being admitted each day.
The outbreak has been fuelled by the spread of BA.4 and BA.5, which are thought to be more infectious but just as mild as the original Omicron strain.
‘We are obviously seeing the emergence of two Omicron sub-variants, which is likely the driving cause for the rise in cases,’ the No10 spokesman said.
‘The latest data suggests these are now the dominant strains in the UK. But, so far, vaccination means those rising cases haven’t translated into a rise of severe illness or death with no increase in ICU admissions.’
They added: ‘The key thing for us is vaccination has meant the rise in cases is not translating into ICU admissions and deaths. But we’ve always been clear Covid hasn’t gone away, which is why we have always continue to urge people to come forward and receive vaccinations when they were due them.
‘As you would expect, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) continue to monitor the situation very closely.’
Covid infections have nearly doubled in a fortnight in England, rising to about 1.4million in the latest week
The prevalence of the Omicron subvariants has nearly doubled every week, according to data from the Sanger Institute — one of the UK’s largest Covid surveillance centres. The strains’ combined 57.4 per cent share of infections in the week to June 11 is up from 41.7 per cent in the week to June 4, 21.2 per cent in the week to May 28 and 11 per cent in the week to May 21. Dominant strain BA.2, which was behind nearly all cases when infections hit a record high in March, now accounts for just 41.7 per cent of cases
Admissions have breached 1,000 for the first time in two months but the majority of patients are not primarily ill with Covid
Covid vaccines ‘saved nearly 20MILLION lives during first year of world’s roll-out’
Covid vaccines saved almost 20million lives during the first year of their existence, according to estimates.
British grandmother Maggie Keenan became the first person in the world to get an approved jab on December 8, 2020.
Pfizer’s rapid discovery of an effective vaccine, and the later roll-out of jabs made by AstraZeneca, Moderna and others, paved the way out of the pandemic.
Now a team of researchers have calculated the benefits of the jabs, estimating they saved 19.8million lives across 185 countries within the first 12 months of being used.
Led by academics at Imperial College London, the team claimed more deaths were prevented in wealthy countries (12.2 million).
They found a further 7.5million lives were saved in countries covered by the Covid-19 Vaccine Access initiative (Covax), designed to provide jabs to poorer nations.
Latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests 1.36million people in England were infected during the week to June 18.
That is 70 per cent more than the 797,000 who were estimated to have had the virus at the very start of June.
BA.4 and BA.5 are now the dominant strains, with BA.5 thought to be the most infectious version of the virus ever.
There is nothing to suggest they cause more severe illness than the original Omicron, which itself is a milder strain.
Sir Jonathan Van-Tam last week dismissed hysteria that a recent uptick in Covid cases marks a new wave of the pandemic, saying Britain has to learn to live the virus.
Referring to hospital admission and death data, the country’s former deputy chief medical officer claimed there is ‘nothing alarmist in these figures’.
Sir Jonathan revealed even he had abandoned wearing his face mask.
The spread of the new variants is thought to have been accelerated during large gatherings for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and half-term holidays.
Some have also pointed to Britons mistaking Covid symptoms for hay fever.
But infectious disease specialists have confidence the upcoming wave will be no worse than other peaks seen this year.
And they do not expect any sharp increase in hospitalisations, despite admissions having already breached 1,000 for the first time in two months.
Only a third of patients are primarily admitted because they are unwell due to the virus, NHS data shows.
That has not stopped some left-leaning scientists to call for the return of mask-wearing and outdoor mixing.
The ONS figures show one in 40 people in England had Covid last week, equating to two per cent. Infections were highest in Scotland, where one in 20 people (250,700) were infected, followed by Northern Ireland, where one in 40 (59,900) were carrying the virus. One in 45 people in Wales (68,500) were infected, where cases were lowest
The ONS figures, which are based on swabs taken from a representative sample of thousands of Britons, show that cases were on the rise across England – apart from the North East and South East, where the trend was uncertain. Infections were highest in London, where 2.9 per cent of people were infected, followed by the North West (2.6 per cent), the South West (2.5 per cent) and Yorkshire and the Humber (2.4 per cent). Cases were below the national average in the North East Midlands (2.4 per cent), South East (2.4 per cent), East of England (2.3 per cent), West Midlands (2.3 per cent) and the North East (2.2 per cent)
The number of people testing positive shot up across all age groups, according to the ONS figures. Those aged 25 to 34 were the most likely to be infected (3.3 per cent), followed by 50 to 69-year-olds (3.1 per cent) and 16 to 24-year-olds (2.9 per cent). Infections were slightly lower among 35 to 49-year-olds (2.7 per cent), the over-70s (2.3 per cent), 11 to 15-year-olds (1.5 per cent) and two to 10-year-olds (0.9 per cent)
The UKHSA estimated that BA.4 and BA.5 account for approximately 22 per cent and 39 per cent of cases, respectively.
Latest analysis suggests BA.5 is growing 35 per cent faster than the formerly dominant Omicron BA.2, while BA.4 is growing approximately 19 per cent faster.
This suggests that BA.5 is likely to become the dominant variant in the UK.
Meanwhile, the latest ONS data show roughly one in 40 people in England had Covid in the week ending June 18, equating to 2.5 per cent of the population.
The weekly infection survey is now considered the best barometre of the outbreak after free-testing was axed in spring.
It found infections were highest in Scotland, where one in 20 people (250,700) were infected, followed by Northern Ireland, where one in 40 (59,900) were carrying the virus.
One in 45 people in Wales (68,500) were thought to be infected.
The figures, based on swabs taken from a sample of thousands of Britons, show that cases were on the rise across England — apart from the North East and South East, where the trend was uncertain.
Infections were highest in London, where 2.9 per cent of people were infected, followed by the North West (2.6 per cent), the South West (2.5 per cent) and Yorkshire and the Humber (2.4 per cent).
Meanwhile, the number of people testing positive shot up across all age groups.
Those aged 25 to 34 were the most likely to be infected (3.3 per cent), followed by 50 to 69-year-olds (3.1 per cent) and 16 to 24-year-olds (2.9 per cent).
Infections were slightly lower among 35 to 49-year-olds (2.7 per cent), the over-70s (2.3 per cent), 11 to 15-year-olds (1.5 per cent) and two to 10-year-olds (0.9 per cent).