Covid cases have been steadily increasing in recent months, with scientists predicting they may even shoot up to 300,000 new cases a day next week.
According to the Office for National Statistics’ data on last week, 2.5% of the English population had Covid, compared to 2.25% in Wales.
A higher proportion of the population in Northern Ireland had it during the same period, with 3.26% testing positive, although this is still lower than in Scotland where around 4.76% had Covid.
The government has not yet mentioned anything about returning to social restrictions, but concerns are still rising.
Here’s a breakdown of why the numbers seem to be climbing – and just how long experts believe this spike may go on for.
Why are infection rates increasing?
For the last two years, it has been unusual for Covid levels to be particularly high in the summer when people spend less time in confined, crowded places and tend to socialise outdoors.
This particular incline can be traced back to the rise in two sub-variants of Covid, BA.4 and BA.5.
Both appear to be particularly good at dodging the body’s immune response, whether it’s come from previous infections or from vaccines.
Another factor may be the amount of time that has passed since the last large vaccine rollout. When Omicron first came on to the scene in late 2021, the huge booster programme meant the majority of the UK population received an additional dose.
It has now been around six months since most people received that jab – meaning the vaccine efficacy is waning.
Can we expect the infection rates to fall again?
Yes, according to Professor Tim Spector, co-founder of the ZOE app.
He said: “With the large numbers of festivals happening, I predict rates will continue to rise for the next week or so.”
The Platinum Jubilee bank holiday saw a big increase in socialising earlier this month, and more than 200,000 festival-goers gathered in Glastonbury last week.
As immunologist at Founding Scientist at Cignpost Diagnostics, Denis Kinane, told HuffPost UK, this is likely to trigger “reinfections and first-time infections”.
However, Professor Spector did note that his analysis comes from the ZOE Health Study app and the participants who log details about their health every day, rather than from the ONS data. He believes the current ONS data is “lagging behind ours by up to a week”.
However, he recommended people still try their best to protect themselves in crowded places.
“I’d still advise people to protect themselves by wearing good quality FFP2 or FFP3 masks in crowded or poorly ventilated areas and testing themselves if possible if they have any Covid symptoms.”
Matt Hancock, former health secretary, also dismissed fears that social distancing measures might return. Writing in The Guardian on Thursday, he claimed that vaccines still protect us from severe illness or death, while admitting “there is clearly more that must still be done”.
Professor Kinane echoed a similar message last week: “The wide uptake of the booster vaccination programme and discussions around the offer of a further jab in the autumn should put the country in a better place than in the past two years.”
What about hospital patients?
While it is hard to differentiate between people who catch Covid in hospital and people who are hospitalised due to Covid, levels of infection are increasing again.
According to the gov.uk dashboard, 8,220 patients currently in hospital have Covid.
While this is a concern, it’s still far below the numbers seen during previous peaks. In January 2021, there were more than 30,000 people in hospital with Covid. The current increase is also to be expected, considering the gradual increase in Covid cases over the last few months.
What about the death rate?
Unlike the rest of the crucial stats, the number of deaths involving Covid in the UK has actually decreased – from 335 to 309 – in the week ending June 17.
ONS also found that deaths involving Covid account for 2.5% of all deaths, which is the same as the previous week.
As Professor Spector pointed out: “The only good news is that the symptoms are still mild with fewer deaths than in other earlier waves.”