Covid: Dr Hilary Jones provides update as UK infection rates rise
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Some 1.7 million people were estimated to have been infected in the UK in the week to June 18, the highest figure recorded by the Office for National Statistics since late April. Dr Kit Yates, of the University of Bath, said that while it may be convenient to pretend the pandemic is over, people should still be taking steps to avoid spreading the virus.
He said: “We’re seeing a rise in infections driven by two new variants of Covid – BA.4 and BA.5.
“Over 1.5 million people in the UK are currently infected – that’s more than one in every 40 people.
“The Government would like to pretend that Covid has gone away. Sadly, while we fail to take measures to mitigate against the spread of covid more people will become infected, which will lead to more hospitalisations and sadly, but inevitably to more deaths.”
Dr Yates added that long Covid is also a serious concern, with two million thought to be affected by lingering symptoms.
Of those, more than 800,000 report having symptoms such as fatigue and breathlessness lasting over a year.
Ondine Sherwood, of the Long Covid SOS campaign, said the Government seemed to be focused on urging the public to get back to normal rather than encouraging simple precautions.
She said: “I think most people in this country are very happy to put it behind them and think the pandemic is over.
“I can understand why – I’ve had long Covid and even I get lulled into a false sense of security. Everyone’s had enough of the pandemic.
“However, I don’t see what’s wrong with taking some precautions. Mask wearing is still mandated in some countries in Europe, why not protect yourself?”
The UK Health Security Agency’s weekly report on Thursday confirmed that Covid cases and hospital admissions were on the rise.
Dr Mary Ramsay, the agency’s director of clinical programmes, said: “We continue to see an increase in Covid-19 data, with a rise in case rates and hospitalisations in those aged 65 years and over, and outbreaks in care homes.
“We can also now see a rise in ICU admissions in older age groups.”
Dr Ramsay said 83.5 percent of over 75s had received a Covid vaccine within the past six months and urged the remaining 16.5 percent to get their spring booster.
She added: “Vaccination remains the best defence against severe disease and hospitalisation.
“Covid-19 has not gone away and we should all remember to keep up good hand and respiratory hygiene. It is also sensible to wear a face covering in crowded, enclosed spaces.”
Data from the ZOE Covid Study shows a similar trend. Experts behind the ZOE app, used by millions to report symptoms of Covid, estimated that around 285,000 people were developing new symptomatic cases every day.
However, this data is separate to the Government’s Covid case figures or the gold standard ONS survey.
Professor Tim Spector, scientific co-founder of ZOE, said: “Our ZOE Health Study data shows the UK is in a new Covid wave that could soon exceed 300,000 daily cases, bringing us to levels seen during the height of the pandemic for the UK.
“It has already overtaken previous records in Scotland. The increase is primarily due to the Omicron BA.5 Covid variant which is now dominant in the UK.”
Prof Spector said that as people gather at large summer festivals, infection rates are likely to keep rising “for the next week or so”.
He added: “The only good news is that the symptoms are still mild with fewer deaths than in other earlier waves, though worryingly the number of hospitalisations is rapidly increasing.
“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.”
Kirsty Robinson was among the unlucky victims who caught Covid before the first lockdown in March 2020.
Her brother was undergoing chemotherapy at the time, leaving him extremely vulnerable, so she moved out to protect him from infection.
Kirsty was not treated in hospital but has still been left with persistent symptoms more than two years on, including debilitating fatigue and joint pain.
She said: “My life feels like it’s over now. I’m only 31, I had a career, I was going out with friends, I was living my life.
“I don’t see why we can’t have masks in place and ventilation. It’s the smallest thing we can ask of people to not spread this around, not only to prevent long Covid but for people like my brother who are vulnerable.”
In the months after her initial illness, Kirsty suffered with a cough, chest pain and shortness of breath.
She is still plagued by fatigue, becoming exhausted after even mild activity, and developed severe joint pain last summer.
Kirsty, who lives with her mum and brother in South Shields, said she “had to fight tooth and nail” for NHS support and referrals to see specialists.
She feels long Covid is not well understood or taken seriously.
She added: “I’ve only recently started being honest with my friends about how ill I am, I sort of kept it a secret.
“They would only see me on good days so in the past they didn’t realise that for me to do anything it would require a good week’s rest.
“I went for a couple of drinks and a meal for my birthday in January and I had to take a week off work just to be able to do that on the weekend.”
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