One in 35 had Covid in England last week as Omicron drives record infections

The growing wave of Omicron cases has helped drive Covid rates to record highs in England, with one in 35 people now infected across the country and one in 20 infected in London, official figures have shown.

Based on random swab tests taken in the community, the Office for National Statistics estimates that almost 3% or 1,544,600 people in England had Covid between 13 and 19 December, with infection rates higher than last week in all regions except the south-west.

Rates of Covid were highest in London in the week studied, and lowest in the north-east where the rate was one in 55 people, according to the ONS infection survey released on Friday,

While London remains the centre of the omicron wave, the ONS said swab results compatible with infections of the new variant rose in all regions of England, and in all nations of the UK, compared with last week’s survey.

Esther Sutherland, a senior statistician on the Covid-19 infection survey, said the rise in infections was across almost all age groups, with the figures suggesting the rapid spread of omicron was “a significant factor in recent trends”.

Further data from the ONS showed people from Pakistani, Caribbean and African backgrounds were least likely to have taken up the offer of a Covid booster or third dose of the vaccine, which provides substantial extra protection against omicron.

Uptake of boosters and third doses among those 50 and over was 42.2%, 44.4% and 45.4% respectively, the ONS said. Figures up to 12 December suggest more than a quarter of people of black Caribbean ethnicity have yet to receive a first dose of Covid vaccine, making them the least vaccinated ethnic group in the UK.

“This is deeply worrying because in many ways I fear a repetition of what happened in the first wave, where … we saw this rather alarming and disturbing disparity in illness and deaths among ethnic minorities from Covid,” Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the council chair at the British Medical Association, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One.

“What we know now of course is that the patients, people who are becoming seriously ill, who are being hospitalised, are those who have not been vaccinated and those who have not had their boosters,” he added.

The ONS figure came as documents from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) noted that infection rates and hospitalisations were “rising fast” in London, and that “as infections move into older age groups, a large wave of hospital admissions should be expected”.

According to the minutes of a Sage meeting held on Thursday, scientists were unclear whether an apparent fall in the growth rate in omicron infections was a genuine slowing down in the spread of the virus.

A real slowdown could be driven by changes in people’s mixing patterns and behaviour – such as being more risk averse in the run up to Christmas – or a fall in the number of susceptible people to infect in particular groups. But other factors may feed in, the scientists stress, such as people not testing in case they have to isolate, and longer testing turnaround times.

Comments are closed.