Covid makes a comeback: Experts warn cases are surging again with one in 40 Brits infected

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Covid is making another resurgence across Britain, prompting scientists to repeat their calls for the return of face masks.

Hospital admissions for the virus are approaching a three-month high. 

And leading experts fear the outbreak – which surveillance data suggested has left one in 40 in England infected – will continue to pick up pace in the coming weeks.

GP surgeries in parts of the country have already started cancelling appointments because the uptick has left them with ‘exceptionally low’ staff levels.

Professor Danny Altmann, an immunologist at Imperial College London, called the surge ‘definitely something to worry about’. 

According to the ZOE Health Study some 136,722 new symptomatic Covid cases were reported across the UK on March 20, 2023. It takes the total number of people currently predicted to have Covid in UK to above 1.5million, rising by around 300,000 in just a week

According to the ZOE Health Study some 136,722 new symptomatic Covid cases were reported across the UK on March 20, 2023. It takes the total number of people currently predicted to have Covid in UK to above 1.5million, rising by around 300,000 in just a week

According to the ZOE Health Study some 136,722 new symptomatic Covid cases were reported across the UK on March 20, 2023. It takes the total number of people currently predicted to have Covid in UK to above 1.5million, rising by around 300,000 in just a week

According to the ZOE Health Study some 136,722 new symptomatic Covid cases were reported across the UK on March 20, 2023. It takes the total number of people currently predicted to have Covid in UK to above 1.5million, rising by around 300,000 in just a week

He told MailOnline the UK was in a ‘rather serious situation’ because of the waning vaccine immunity coupled with new variants.

Many bouts of these Covid infections are ‘neither brief nor mild’, added Professor Altmann, who is a member of the notorious Independent Sage group that lobbied for a ‘zero Covid’ approach.

He said: ‘They carry a reduced but significant risk of long Covid.

‘This all puts strain on the infected, strain on the workplace, on the NHS and thus, on the economy.’

‘For my taste we’d be continuing to think about the mitigations,’ Professor Altmann added.

How long should I self-isolate for? And do I still need to test? Everything you need to know about the current Covid guidance as virus cases soar

Do I need to quarantine?

Quarantine is no longer mandatory for anyone with Covid after ministers changed the rules last year.

But health officials still advise the infected – or anyone with tell-tale symptoms – to stay at home and avoid contact with other people.

Tell-tale symptoms include a fever, a new and continuous cough and feeling short of breath, similar to other respiratory infections.

A loss or change in taste or smell, feeling tired, an aching body and a sore throat are also signs of Covid.

How long should I stay at home for?

Adults who test positive are advised to stay at home and avoid contact with others for five days. 

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) says infected people should try to work from home. 

Those who leave home while infected are encouraged to wear a face mask and avoid crowded places, such as public transport. 

It is recommended that children who test positive stay at home for three days.

Do I need to avoid anyone in particular? 

Everyone who tests positive should avoid meeting those at risk from the virus, the NHS says.

This includes older people, pregnant women and those with a weak immune system, according to UKHSA guidance. 

Close contacts — such as those who live with someone infected — are encouraged to avoid contact with others at risk from the virus, limit contacts with those outside the household and wear a mask when near others. 

Do I need to test? 

Regular testing was a huge part of pandemic-era life. 

But Brits are no longer required to test if they have any of the symptoms.

So, for those wanting to know if their symptoms are down to Covid, they must buy a swab.

Lateral flow tests, which give results in minutes, are available in pharmacies for as little as 76p.

Only health and social care staff, those going into hospital and at-risk groups can access free Covid tests.

Such measures could include face masks in public spaces and rolling out vaccine boosters.

Professor Tim Spector, the epidemiologist behind the ZOE Covid infection survey, said cold weather — which encourages people to mix indoors — and children are driving the rise. 

Another round of the historic jab drive will begin in the next fortnight.

The over-75s, care home residents and those aged five and over with a weakened immune system will be eligible for the booster injection — the groups deemed most at risk of serious illness from the virus. 

This is because of the wall of immunity, built up from vaccines and numerous waves, have drastically blunted Covid and morphed it into a milder flu-like illness for the vast majority. 

The Government has insisted it will never revert back to pandemic-era measures unless a doomsday variant emerges. 

Some hospitals continue to recommend that patients and staff wear masks in certain areas, however.

Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at the University of Reading, told MailOnline that ‘ups and downs’ in Covid numbers will be ‘entirely normal’ forevermore. 

‘Infection numbers don’t necessarily correspond to severe illness and it’s only if there is a sustained increase in that number that we have a problem,’ he said. 

Meanwhile, Professor Robert Dingwall, a sociologist who advised the Government during the pandemic, told MailOnline: ‘We should expect rates to go up and down a bit like any other respiratory infection.

‘With the current state of knowledge, reintroducing masks is really theatre rather than practical infection control.’ 

Latest hospital data shows 1,189 people infected with Covid were admitted to hospitals in England on March 13.

It is the highest figure logged since the end of December and is not far off this winter’s peak of 1,376.

However, current admission levels are nowhere near levels seen earlier in the pandemic, when a high of 4,134 admissions were logged per day. 

And just a third are directly due to Covid — with the other patients hospitalised for another ailment, such as a broken leg, but also testing positive.

Official surveillance studies are yet to pick up the increase in the virus. 

The latest update from the gold-standard Office for National Statistics infection monitoring shows cases have flatlined at 1.3million.

However, its data only goes up to March 7 and its statisticians warn that the trends remain ‘uncertain’, with a ‘mixed picture’ across regions and age groups in England. 

A separate Covid monitoring project, ran by health-tech firm ZOE, has found that rates have been on the up for a week. 

It predicts nearly 1.5million people in the UK had symptomatic Covid on Monday — up by a fifth from 1.2million just one week earlier. 

GP surgeries in parts of the country have already started cancelling appointments because the uptick has left them with 'exceptionally low' staff levels. On March 21, the Montgomery-House Surgery in Bicester, Oxfordshire, said: 'We are currently experiencing high levels of Covid amongst our clinical team resulting in staff absence and reduced appointment capacity. 'On Friday 24 March, we will have exceptionally low numbers of GPs and will be offering urgent appointments only. 'Where possible, please submit repeat prescription requests on another day'

GP surgeries in parts of the country have already started cancelling appointments because the uptick has left them with ‘exceptionally low’ staff levels. The Montgomery-House Surgery, in Bicester, Oxfordshire, said: ‘We are currently experiencing high levels of Covid amongst our clinical team resulting in staff absence and reduced appointment capacity. ‘On Friday 24 March, we will have exceptionally low numbers of GPs and will be offering urgent appointments only. ‘Where possible, please submit repeat prescription requests on another day’

The graph shows the total number of patients in hospital who have Covid in England each day up to March 15

The graph shows the total number of patients in hospital who have Covid in England each day up to March 15

Hospital admissions for the virus have hit a three-month high, despite official data-tracking schemes suggesting cases have flatlined

Hospital admissions for the virus have hit a three-month high, despite official data-tracking schemes suggesting cases have flatlined

An Office of National Statistics analysis has calculated how each much of each Covid wave infected the population of England. The latest, Omicron BA.4/5, was the biggest infecting 46.3 per cent of the population. Individuals could be represented twice in the data having, for example, caught Covid once at the start of the pandemic, then again during the Omicron surge

An Office of National Statistics analysis has calculated how each much of each Covid wave infected the population of England. The latest, Omicron BA.4/5, was the biggest infecting 46.3 per cent of the population. Individuals could be represented twice in the data having, for example, caught Covid once at the start of the pandemic, then again during the Omicron surge

Current levels are in line with those detected in mid-January, when cases were declining from the winter peak of around 1.7million, according to ZOE data.

For months, health chiefs have warned about a rise in cases and hospitalisations driven by Omicron sub-variants Kraken (XBB.1.5) and Orthrus (CH.1.1).

Kraken was the dominant strain in the UK by the end of last month, causing 50.4 per cent of cases, according to ONS data, while Orthrus was behind at 19.7 per cent.

Latest Covid surveillance data from the UK Health Security Agency revealed that cases appear to be highest in older people.

However, confirmed ones rely on people taking tests and old people living in care homes are more likely to have regular swabs.

The current outbreak has seen one GP surgery this week tell patients that it has ‘exceptionally low numbers’ of doctors due to staff sickness and will only be offering ‘urgent appointments’. 

The Montgomery-House Surgery, in Bicester, Oxfordshire, said: ‘We are currently experiencing high levels of Covid amongst our clinical team resulting in staff absence and reduced appointment capacity.

‘On Friday 24 March, we will have exceptionally low numbers of GPs and will be offering urgent appointments only.

‘Where possible, please submit repeat prescription requests on another day.’  

But Dr Clarke acknowledged the GP surgeries were ‘most likely’ to be hit with outbreaks of Covid, given the spread of cold and flu between people. 

He told MailOnline: ‘Clusters of infection […] are always going to occur. 

‘We’re all familiar with the spread of colds and flu between people we associate with on a daily basis, when it hits a public service like a GP’s surgery, people are most likely to notice.’

The last Covid wave appears to have peaked at 2.5million infections in England at the close of December.

This is far below the levels reached in previous outbreaks.

Infections climbed as high as 3.7million last winter during the spread of the original Omicron variant — but this was topped a few months later, when the number reached a record 4.1million.



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