Covid infection rates have risen sharply in Britain, data has revealed, as Downing Street ruled out compulsory mask wearing in England this winter.
According to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, about 211,100 people in the community in England, or one in 260, had Covid in the week ending 26 June.
That’s around a 72% rise on the week before when about 122,500 people in the community in England, or one in 440, were estimated to have had Covid.
There was also a steep increase in Scotland, where one in 150 people in the community had Covid in the most recent week, compared with one in 220 the week before. An increase was also recorded in Wales, but the trend in Northern Ireland was unclear.
Sarah Crofts, the head of analytical outputs for the ONS’s Covid-19 infection survey, said the latest data showed a notable increase in infection rates across England, Wales and Scotland, driven by the Delta variant.
“Though infection rates are now similar to February, the ongoing vaccination programs will hopefully mean fewer people will have severe symptoms,” she said.
The data comes as figures from Public Health England (PHE) reveal the number of confirmed or probable cases of the Delta variant in the UK have risen 46% in the space of a week from 111,157 to 161,981. Around 95% of new cases that are sequenced in the UK involved the variant, PHE said.
The latest estimate for the R number in England – the average number of people an infected person goes on to infect – declined slightly to between 1.1 and 1.2, with the number of new infections growing by between 2% and 5% a day. There is considerable variation around the country, however, and time lags in the data mean the figures reflect the situation two to three weeks ago.
Covid restrictions are expected to be further eased in England on 19 July despite the rise in case numbers.
Downing Street ruled out face masks being reintroduced this winter, when some fear a Covid spike coupled with the return of seasonal flu could lead to significant pressure on the NHS again.
Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the suggestion was wrong, but did not rule out Covid status certificates being held back in reserve to be deployed later in the year.
He also refused to say which measures would be lifted on 19 July, including on the isolation of school bubbles and social distancing, confirming on
Prof Azra Ghaniof Imperial College London, said the early exponential growth seen in the ONS figures and daily case data was to be expected given the greater transmissibility of the Delta variant. Hospital admissions were also rising, she said, but at a slower rate because of high levels of vaccination.
It was unclear whether the rate of increase in infections would accelerate in the coming weeks, but the number of hospital admissions and deaths was expected to rise, she said.
“The extent of those increases will depend on how quickly the vaccination programme proceeds given that two doses are required for high levels of protection against the Delta variant,” she said.
ly that the prime minister “wants to go back to a world as close to the status quo as possible”.