UK Covid wave falls away as infections drop by half a million

The UK’s latest wave of Covid continued to subside at the end of last month, with infections falling by more than half a million for the second week running, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Estimates from the ONS, based on swabs collected from households around the country, suggest that 2,585,400 people in the UK were infected in the week to 26 July, down 588,400 on the week before.

The drop in cases comes after the ONS reported a similar fall in infections in the data released last week, the first decline since June, when Covid cases began to surge in the latest wave fuelled by the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of Omicron.

According to figures released by the ONS on Friday, Covid infections fell in all regions of England and in all age groups, a trend that will have been helped by schools breaking up for the summer holidays. The highest case rates are still seen in the over-80s, which include some of the most vulnerable people in the population.

“Our most recent data suggests that infection rates have continued to decrease across much of the UK, although rates still remain high,” said Dr Rhiannon Yapp, co-lead for the ONS Covid-19 Infection Survey. “We have seen continued decreases in all regions and age groups in England. With the summer holidays and more people travelling, we will continue to closely monitor the data.”

The ONS data suggests about one in 25 people in England were infected in the week to 26 July, compared with one in 20 the week before. In Scotland, the estimated infection rate fell to one in 20 from one in 19, while in Wales about one in 30 would have tested positive for the virus, down sharply from one in 19 the week before. The trend in Northern Ireland has been less clear in recent weeks. About one in 17 were infected in the latest week surveyed, down from one in 16 the previous week, but up from one in 20 the week before.

Since the end of June, the vast majority of UK Covid cases have been caused by the BA.5 subvariant, with BA.4 accounting for most of the rest. While BA.5 spreads faster, it is unclear how much of its advantage comes from higher transmissibility, its ability to evade immunity from vaccines and previous infections, or a mix of both.

Although cases are falling in the UK, the NHS is preparing to launch a combined flu vaccine and Covid booster campaign amid concerns that Covid cases will surge again in the autumn and winter, and potentially coincide with a severe flu season.

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