What Is The Risk Of A Covid Spike Over The Jubilee Bank Holiday?

Covid cases are at their lowest for a year, but experts say that may be about to change.
Celebrations for the Queen's Jubilee during the extended bank holiday weekend are expected to cause an uptick in Covid cases
via Associated Press
Celebrations for the Queen's Jubilee during the extended bank holiday weekend are expected to cause an uptick in Covid cases

Covid cases have now fallen to the lowest rates we’ve seen for almost a year – but could these numbers be about to change over the extended Platinum Jubilee bank holiday weekend?

Here’s what the experts think.

Why do cases seem to have fallen so much?

Reported infections on May 12 were at 7,611 across the UK – the last time we experienced such low rates was on June 8, 2021.

Two major infection waves have driven the high numbers we’ve seen over the past six months, both caused by strains of the Omicron variant.

These infections helped increase widespread immunity (working alongside vaccines) which means people are less likely to catch Covid again in the near future.

There’s also the reduced amount of testing to consider. Now that people have to pay for Covid tests, fewer infections are being confirmed and logged.

Professor of Medicine at the University of East Anglia, Paul Hunter, told the Guardian that now fewer than one in 10 Covid tests are being picked up and reported to the government’s Covid dashboard.

For comparison, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has reported that 1 in 60 people in England now have Covid, compared to 1 in 55 in Wales, 1 in 80 in Northern Ireland and 1 in 40 in Scotland.

People testing positive for Covid-19 in private households in the UK.
PA GraphicsPress Association Images
People testing positive for Covid-19 in private households in the UK.

So how might Covid cases change over the bank holiday?

Usually, the warmer months mean people spend less time inside, in confined spaces where airborne viruses can thrive. This means Covid rates drop.

But with a four-day weekend ahead, plenty of parties and an increase in socialising planned, experts have warned that we should expect cases to increase in the coming weeks.

Professor Denis Kinane of Cignpost Diagnostics told HuffPost UK that this, alongside waning levels of immunity, could spell a surge in cases.

He added: “We should also expect to see a rise in re-infections and first-time infections.

“What’s more, the ending of free tests means people are far less likely to be diagnosed, so they could mix with others while unknowingly carrying the virus.”

Similarly, Professor Tim Spector, from King’s College London and co-founder of the Zoe Covid app, told the i newspaper: “We’re hearing anecdotes from medical conferences where doctors are meeting up and 10% of them are coming down with Covid when they get home.

“All these big meetings of people, if it’s more than just a few minutes, are causing an increase in infections, so I think we will see a spike after this.

“I don’t think cases will go up as high as we saw in January, I think it will be a mini blip. But this thing is going to stay in this high endemic state for a while.”

This means there could be between 24,000 and 60,000 extra symptomatic Covid cases each day.

However, protection against severe illness drops off at a much slower rate than against infection, so this should not trigger high rates of hospitalisations and deaths.

Deaths involving Covid-19 in England & Wales.
PA GraphicsPress Association Images
Deaths involving Covid-19 in England & Wales.

What about the new Omicron strains?

Kinane predicted that the Omicron subvariants – also known as BA.4 and BA.5 – will probably become the dominant strains in the UK after all the celebratory mixing in the next few days, ousting the current BA.2.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) recently dubbed BA.4 and BA.5 “variants of concern”, as they have a growth advantage over their predecessor.

He explained: “Although the overall proportion of these two new forms is currently low, the high transmissibility reported in South Africa indicates that these strains could become dominant in the UK in the coming weeks.”

There’s also a subvariant called BA.2.12.1 which spreads faster and is currently the dominant strain in the US.

However, the immunologist was hopeful that this would not translate into more severe infections even though they are considered to be more infectious.

“So far, there has been no indication that BA.4, BA.5 or BA.2.12.1 are associated with new symptoms or more severe disease,” Kinane explained.

The concern with these subvariants, is more about their reach – any increased transmission without a drop in severity, will still have a significant impact.

Professor Balloux from UCL also told the i that “based on current trends, BA.2 may lose its dominance sometimes in early June”, meaning the other more transmissible Omicron strains take the lead.

Kinane urged people to continue looking out for the typical Omicron symptoms – fever, cough, loss of smell, fatigue and malaise – when trying to detect if they had fallen ill with these new strains.

“This is to be expected, given that the majority of mutations are similar to those found in other Omicron subvariants.”

He added: “Symptoms will however continue to be closely monitored by the WHO and health bodies in countries where these subvariants are being picked up.”

How long might this spike last for?

Scientists believe this post-Jubilee spike will last only a week or two, but with new variants circulating, levels of infection are unlikely to drop quickly as they normally do during the warmer months when people spend less time indoors.

Spector told the i: “After a number of weeks with cases steadily falling, we are now seeing a real slow down and we predict cases will stall around 100,000 new cases a day for a while… Covid is not going to disappear this summer.

“Hospitalisations and deaths are still right down. It’s definitely not killing people off but it’s hitting the workforce and leading to some getting long Covid.”

Prof Hunter also told The Guardian that we should not expect Covid to ever disappear completely.

“It won’t continue falling for ever. Covid is undoubtedly becoming endemic. We are not going to get down to very low numbers again in our lifetimes.”

How to protect yourself against Covid during the Jubilee celebrations

With large gatherings much more likely, try to test yourself where you can if you are experiencing any Covid symptoms.

If the results are positive you should think about isolating to avoid passing the virus on.

Immunocompromised people should aim to wear a face mask if attending any large events or travelling on public transport – and others may wish to do the same to protect them.