Covid infections rise to record high for over 70s in UK

According to the Office for National Statistics, coronavirus infections among the over-70s in the UK rose to a record high in mid-March, attributed to the highly infectious subvariant Omicron BA.2.

Nearly 3.3 million people were infected with Covid-19 for the week ended March 12, up 26 percent from the previous week and the highest level since mid-February.

Infection rates skyrocketed in all regions of the UK except Northern Ireland. Scotland has seen the pandemic’s highest infection rates yet, with one in 14 people contracting the virus in the week to mid-March, up from one in 18 a week earlier. In England, one in 20 people had the coronavirus during the same period, compared with one in 25 a week earlier.

The rise in infections has already begun to contribute to increased hospital admissions. As of March 17 there were 14,671 Covid patients in hospitals across the UK, up 38 per cent over the past two weeks.

Sarah Crofts, lead analytical results for the ONS infection survey, noted that over-70s, the age group most susceptible to serious illness, “[reached] their highest estimate” since the survey began in summer 2020. In England, one in 30 people over 70 had Covid in the seven days to March 12.

“These increases are largely due to the significant increase in the Omicron BA.2 subvariant,” she said.

Experts assume that the wave of infections is being driven by declining behavioral caution, which coincides with the increased prevalence of the BA.2 offshootwhich is 30 percent more contagious than the original Omicron.

The surge in infections comes as England prepares to end free mass Covid testing from the end of the month after government restrictions were lifted at the end of February.

“At this level of prevalence and the decision not to stop the spread, the most likely outcome is that almost everyone who is susceptible will become infected,” said James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute and professor of structural biology at Oxford University. “My primary concern is for those vulnerable for whom this disease is serious and for those whose lives are being devastated by prolonged Covid-19.”

Graham Medley, a professor of infectious disease modeling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that ending legally enforced self-isolation in England would have made the surge “more difficult to contain now that fewer of the sick are staying at home”.

On March 16, English hospitals recorded 1,823 Covid admissions, up 20 per cent on the same day last week and the highest daily figure since January 13.

However, a large proportion of the registered Covid patients are not primarily treated for the disease, but randomly tested positive after admission. In England, they make up 56 percent of Covid patients.

In Scotland, the number of Covid patients is just below the January 2021 peak of 2,053. As of Friday, 2,050 hospital beds were occupied by Covid patients.

“It was expected that there would be an upward trend once measures were lifted, but people weren’t expecting such a sharp increase so soon,” said Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents leading healthcare companies in England. “We have to keep a close eye on that. There is a danger that people will feel a false sense of security.”

She added that the NHS is “not expecting at this time” the wave of critical incidents reported before Christmas, “but we are not proceeding as quickly as we would like with the backlog being restored”.

Britain’s other nations have also started lifting restrictions in recent weeks, but on Tuesday the Scottish Government pushed back the end of mask requirements to April, citing BA.2 concerns. Covid infections rise to record high for over 70s in UK

Adam Bradshaw

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