UK Covid cases rise to one in 45 testing positive in some areas ahead of Christmas

A positive Covid test could force thousand of people to isolate over Christmas. Credit: PA

UK Covid infections are rising to their highest levels since the end of October, potentially leaving people facing another Christmas away from family.

The number of people testing positive for coronavirus nationwide was up 16% to 1.3 million in the week to December 5, up from 1.1 million the previous week.

Official figures show around 1 in 50 people were estimated to have Covid in England in the week ending 5 December, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) weekly infection survey, rising from one in 60 the previous week.The figure was one in 45 in Northern Ireland in the week ending 3 December, compared to one in 50 the previous week.In Wales, one in 55 were estimated to have tested positive in the week ending 5 December, compared to one in 70 the previous week.And in Scotland, the estimate was one in 50, compared to one in 60 the previous week.

During the main waves of coronavirus earlier in 2022, the total peaked at nearly four million in July and just under five million in March.

England, Scotland, and Wales all saw a rise in Covid cases, while the trend in Northern Ireland is uncertain, the ONS said.

While it is no longer the law to self-isolate after testing positive for Covid, current NHS guidance suggests people should try to stay at home and avoid contact with others until they no longer have symptoms or feel unwell.

A study published in August found a quarter of people were still infectious seven days after symptoms started.

The study, led by Imperial College London and published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine journal, suggested people should isolate while testing positive but may leave isolation 10 days after their symptoms began.

With a week until Christmas, this may mean people testing positive now will still be infectious on December 25.Michelle Bowen, Head of Health Surveillance Dissemination and Strategy, said: “Across most of the UK we have seen infections begin to increase again, with England now at similar levels to the end of September this year.

“The trend in infections varies across the English regions and ages, and we will continue to monitor the data carefully as the winter months progress.” 

Separate figures show that hospital admissions of people with flu are now running at a higher rate than in any week during the previous four winters.

Admissions are highest among those aged 85 and over, at 23.1 per 100,000 people, up week-on-week from 10.7, according to data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

There has been a similarly large jump in the rate among children aged four and under, from 8.4 to 20.7.

All children aged two and three are eligible for a flu nasal spray vaccine, which is being offered by local GPs.

But only 37.4% of two-year-olds have received the vaccine so far, along with 39.5% of three-year-olds – well below the take-up reached at this point in previous winters.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

In total, about 33 million people in England can get a free flu vaccine this year, including everyone aged 50 and over, all primary-age children and some secondary-age children.

The vaccine is also being offered to pregnant women, people in care homes, frontline health and social care staff, carers, those aged six to 49 with a specified health condition, and household contacts of people with weakened immune systems.

Dr Conall Watson, UKHSA consultant epidemiologist, said: “Flu is now circulating widely and we have seen a sharp rise in the rate of hospitalisations for flu this week, particularly among the under-fives and over-85s.

“Admissions are now at the highest point since the 2017/18 season and we are expecting case numbers to continue increasing as we move further into winter.

“The flu vaccine offers the best protection against severe illness and it’s not too late for everyone eligible to get it.

“Uptake is particularly low in those aged two and three, so if your child is eligible please take up the offer.”

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