UK reaches record levels of COVID-19; Nearly 5 million infected

London (AFP) – The spread of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom has reached record levels, with 1 in 13 people estimated to have contracted the virus in the past week, according to the latest figures from Britain’s official statistics agency.

An estimated 4.9 million people contracted the coronavirus in the week ending March 26, the Office for National Statistics said Friday, up from 4.3 million recorded in the previous week. The latest increase has been driven by the more transmissible Omicron BA.2 variant, which is the dominant variant across the UK.

Hospitalization and death rates are rising again, although the number of people dying from COVID-19 is still relatively low compared to earlier this year. However, the latest estimates are that the sharp rise in new infections since late February, when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson canceled all remaining restrictions on the Corona virus in England, continued until March.

The numbers came on the same day the government ended free rapid COVID-19 tests for most people in England, under Johnson’s “Live with COVID” plan. People who do not have health conditions that make them more susceptible to contracting the virus now need to pay for tests to see if they are infected.

“The government’s ‘coive with COVID’ strategy to remove any mitigations, isolate, free testing and a large slice of our surveillance is nothing more than ignoring this virus going forward,” said Stephen Griffin, Associate Professor at Leeds Medical School at the University of Leeds.

“This unchecked spread threatens the protection our vaccines provide,” he said. “Our vaccines are excellent, but they are not a silver bullet and should not be left to bear the brunt of COVID in isolation.”

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More than 67% of people aged 12 and over in the UK have been vaccinated and have received a booster or third dose of the coronavirus vaccine. From Saturday, parents can also book a low-dose vaccine for children aged 5 to 12 years in England.

James Naismith, a professor of biology at the University of Oxford, said he believes that except for those who are fully protected or not exposed to the virus, it is likely that most people in the country will have the BA.2 variant by summer.

“This literally means living with the virus through infection,” he said.

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