Covid is now more prevalent than EVER in England… so how rife is virus in YOUR town?

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Covid is now more rife in England than at any other time during the virus crisis, the biggest Covid surveillance scheme suggested today.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated more than 4.1million people had the virus on any given day over the week to March 26, equivalent to one in 13 being infected.

The figure is the highest ever recorded in England, topping the previous peak of 3.7m at the height of the Omicron wave in January. It is also 18 per cent higher than last week. 

In the most Covid-ridden towns of Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch, as many as one in nine people were thought to have the virus. And infections have soared to pandemic highs in all over-35s.

Britain’s outbreak as a whole is also bigger than ever, with 4.9m now thought to be infected — up from 4.3m last week.  

Statisticians said England’s surge was being driven by the more transmissible version of Omicron, scientifically named BA. Although, ministers admit that ditching the final Covid restrictions last month also fueled the uptick. 

Despite the mass testing project warning that cases show no signs of slowing yet, top scientists are hopeful that the worst may be over. Official numbers — reliant on people getting tested, as opposed to random swabbing — have been falling for a week, bolstering hopes that the virus was running out of steam.

Hospitalisations are still ticking upwards, but official figures suggest about half of admissions are now ‘incidental’ — when someone is admitted to hospital for something else such as a fall but then tests positive for Covid. NHS intensive care rates have barely budged, despite cases continuing to soar.

The record-breaking cases were revealed on the day England entered a ‘new era’ of the pandemic, with millions no longer able to get free Covid swabs to check whether they have the virus for the first time in a year.

Experts today argued the timing of the end of free testing ‘couldn’t really be worse’, and that the country would now have to rely on the public ‘doing the right thing’ and getting tested when unwell. A chorus of gloomy Government advisers yesterday issued a string of new warnings about the pressure on the health service.

But ministers have insisted it is the ‘right’ moment to scrap the mass-testing regime, which cost No10 up to £2bn-a-month. Only the most vulnerable and health care workers are still able to get free swabs. 

The ONS survey is seen as the gold-standard for tracking the pandemic by ministers because it relies on more than 100,000 random swabs, meaning it can reach groups which would normally avoid getting tested.

From today it has become England’s main method for monitoring Covid outbreaks, with the universal testing offer coming to an end. But it lags about a week behind the situation on the ground.

Yesterday NHS Test and Trace workers were pictured dismantling swabbing sites as the around 500 across the country begin to come down.

Ministers warned of plans to water-down the ONS infection survey last month, but details of which parts will be cut back are yet to be announced.

So much for living with Covid! A QUARTER of people in England are still working from home 

One in four Britons are still working from home despite WFH guidance being ditched two months ago, official data shows. 

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that 26 per cent of people across the UK either worked from home for all or part of last week.

One in 10 were still exclusively doing their job from home, while 14 per cent travelled to work some days. 

The poll suggests roughly 7.7million of the 29.7m workers in the UK are still operating from home at least part of the time, despite No10 trumpeting a massive back to work drive.

Britons were temporarily advised to pivot back to remote working in December when the Omicron wave surged across the country. It led to a third of employees working remotely. 

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson lifted work from home guidance, Covid passes and face mask rules in England in January as part of the ‘living with’ the virus strategy.

Today marked the next step of the blueprint, with access to free virus tests now over for millions of people in England. 

This graph shows the number of laboratory confirmed  Covid reinfections recorded in the UK (the blue bars) in comparison to the number of first infections (the red line). It demonstrates that the majority of reinfections occurred during the Omicron surge around the end of last year although they have been on the rise since the end of February

This graph shows the number of laboratory confirmed  Covid reinfections recorded in the UK (the blue bars) in comparison to the number of first infections (the red line). It demonstrates that the majority of reinfections occurred during the Omicron surge around the end of last year although they have been on the rise since the end of February

Results from the ONS survey also revealed infections have hit a record-high in Wales, where one in 14 people now have the virus (212,000 cases last week).

Scotland recorded the highest infection rate in the country with one in 12 having Covid (451,000), but this was down five per cent on last week’s record. 

Northern Ireland saw its cases rise 13 per cent to one in 15 being infected (123,000).

In England, all legal Covid requirements came to an end in February, although guidance to wear face coverings in crowded places and isolate when suffering symptoms or testing positive is still in place.

The same approach is in place in Northern Ireland.

And guidance is similar in Wales, after laws to wear masks and isolate after testing positive were scrapped on Monday. But people are still told to wear masks in health and social care settings.

But rules are stricter in Scotland, where laws set out that individuals must wear masks in shops, hospitality venues and on public transport. And infected people are still required to isolate for at least seven days. 

Kara Steel, senior statistician for the ONS Covid survey, said: ‘Infection levels remain high, with the highest levels recorded in our survey seen in England and Wales and notable increases among older age groups.

‘The rapid rise continues to be fuelled by the growth of the Omicron BA.2 variant across the UK.

‘We continue to closely monitor the data and remain thankful to all of our participants for their contribution.’

ONS statistics showed cases rose across all regions of England last week and among over-25s.

They reached record levels among over-50s, who are most vulnerable to the virus.

But in a sign the wave may be slowing cases plateaued among the under-25s, who have had the highest infection rates throughout much of the pandemic.

Professor James Naismith, director of Oxford University’s Rosalind Franklin Institute said the figures showed BA.2 ‘is extremely good at infecting people’.

‘It remains my view that unless you are completely shielded or are not susceptible to the virus, by the summer you are more likely to have been infected with BA.2 than not,’ he said.

‘No part of the UK has currently implemented effective control measures, the limit on prevalence of the virus is simply the proportion of susceptible people.

‘This is literally living with the virus by being infected with it.

‘Omicron BA.2 is less severe but the main reason we have endured this wave with many fewer deaths is vaccination. Vaccination has meant the elderly and vulnerable have been able to fight off this virus without very serious illness after being infected.’

He added: ‘With such a high prevalence, as a country we have decided to run a long covid19 experiment. Long covid19 is recognised illness and there are now some clear markers for the disease.

‘It seems likely with some evidence but not yet conclusively proven that vaccination significantly reduces the likelihood and severity of long covid, more work on long covid is urgently needed.

‘The safety and efficacy of vaccines have been proven beyond any doubt.’

The figures — from the UK Health Security Agency — differ from the ONS in that they are based on the number of positive tests reported nationally, and that they are released every day rather than every week.

But they are a potential early signal that the current wave may already be slowing down. 

Free Covid testing ends for millions in England

Pictured above are workers in Milton, Cambridgeshire

Pictured above are workers in Milton, Cambridgeshire

Free Covid tests officially ended for millions of people today as England ushered in the next stage of the post-pandemic era.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said now was the ‘right’ time to withdraw the universal testing offer and ‘focus resources’ on those who need it most.  

He told the nation: ‘We are one of the most open and free countries in the world now, and that’s because of decisions that we’ve taken as a country.’

The Government website for ordering tests today displayed a message saying free Covid tests are now only available for certain groups. Most people will now have to purchase the swabs from high street stores, where they are available for about £2 each. 

Yesterday NHS Test and Trace workers were pictured taking down the around 500 testing sites in the country.

England has ended its offer of free swabs under its plans to ‘live with’ the virus and following pressure from the Treasury over the bill — which ministers claimed cost £2billion in January at the height of the Omicron wave.

Scotland will end its offer next month, while Wales is to stop handing out the swabs this summer. 

 

Yesterday the UK recorded 74,720 Covid cases, which was down almost a quarter in a week.

But the number of swabs carried out also fell slightly, while the positivity rate — the proportion of swabs that picked up the virus — remained flat.

Sir Patrick, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, yesterday told MPs earlier today that ‘infections are beginning to turn so we may be quite close to, or at, the peak and it may start coming down shortly’.

But other top scientists today warned the health service is under severe pressure and Britons should continue to wear masks to limit the spread of the virus, the day before free Covid tests for all is scrapped.

Sir Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, told a conference: ‘The waves are still occurring.’ He added they will ‘certainly’ continue. 

And Dame Jenny Harries, head of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), called for the nation to keep wearing face masks because infection rates are so high. 

She said that Britons should be ‘very sensible and take precautions in periods of high prevalence as we have now’.

The record high ONS case rates come as the universal testing offer is dropped in England after it cost £2billion-a-month to run in January.

Professor Tim Spector from King’s College London, who runs the Zoe Covid tracking app, said the timing of the end of free testing ‘couldn’t really be worse’.

He warned England was now in a situation of ‘having to rely on the public to actually do the right thing and get these tests themselves when they get sick’.

He told Times Radio that ‘if we’re not having free testing, let’s have a clear policy on how you would know that you’re infected, and therefore you can self-isolate.

‘To do that, the Government needs to admit that the symptoms of Covid have changed in the last two years, and that 80 per cent of people now present with cold-like symptoms.

‘And there should be a public health campaign to say at the moment, when your chances of having Covid are greater than a cold…test if you can afford it – (and) even if you can’t – assume you’ve got Covid.’ 

Scotland is not ending its free testing offer until next month, while in Wales the swabs will be offered until July. There are no plans yet to end mass testing in Northern Ireland. 

The ZOE Symptom study app estimated there were 349,000 new Covid cases every day over the week to 29 March.

This was up seven per cent on the previous week, and suggested one in 15 people in the UK currently has Covid.

Professor Spector said cases were continuing to soar to ‘all time highs’ but that the slowing in the rate of increase was a promising sign. 

Seventy-four Britons have had Covid FOUR times 

Dozens of Britons have caught Covid four times since the start of the pandemic, new data suggests.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) revealed 74 people have tested positive four times since the start of April 2020.

Additionally, more than 8,700 people are thought to have been infected three times, and almost 800,000 Britons have caught the virus twice.

The latest figures on Covid reinfections come as England woke up to the next stage of its post-pandemic era, with free testing for the virus axed from today onwards.

From now on only NHS workers, care home staff and vulnerable patients will be eligible for free swabs under No10’s ‘Living With Covid’ strategy, with hundreds of testing sites to be dismantled.

While Covid cases have declined over the past week, several top experts have urged people not to think of the pandemic as being over.

On Thursday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said people must ‘learn to live with Covid’ as campaigners criticised the end of free testing.

He told reporters: ‘We are one of the most open and free countries in the world now, and that’s because of decisions that we’ve taken as a country… and it is right also as we learn to live with Covid that we withdraw free testing – universally… if it’s not needed any more, but we focus those resources on the people that need it most. And that’s what we’re doing.’

But Carers UK and the Alzheimer’s Society criticised the move, with the latter saying it ‘risks gambling’ with the lives of people living with dementia.

The Alzheimer’s Society has been campaigning to keep lateral flow tests free for all people visiting loved ones in care homes.

While free testing ends in England, it will continue during April in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and until the summer in Wales.

The most recent data shows there were 15,632 people in hospital in England with Covid-19 as of Wednesday, up 18 per cent week on week and the highest since January 19.

It comes as official data showed one in four Britons are still working from home despite WFH guidance being ditched two months ago.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that 26 per cent of people across the UK either worked from home for all or part of last week.

One in 10 were still exclusively doing their job from home, while 14 per cent travelled to work some days.

The poll suggests roughly 7.7million of the 29.7m workers in the UK are still operating from home at least part of the time, despite No10 trumpeting a massive back to work drive.

Britons were temporarily advised to pivot back to remote working in December when the Omicron wave surged across the country. It led to a third of employees working remotely.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson lifted work from home guidance, Covid passes and face mask rules in England in January as part of the ‘living with’ the virus strategy.

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