The ONS data shows one in 13 people in England are estimated to have had Covid during that week, up from one in 16 the week before, and in Wales the figure is one in 14 people, up from one in 16
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Covid infection levels have hit a record high across the UK as free Covid-19 testing for millions in England comes to an end.
Some 4.9 million people in the UK are estimated to have had Covid-19 in the week ending March 2, up from 4.3 million in the previous week, the Office for National Statistics said.
The ONS data shows one in 13 people in England are estimated to have had Covid during that week, up from one in 16 the week before, and in Wales the figure is one in 14 people, up from one in 16.
Both are record highs and it comes after experts warned that at such levels anyone in the population who can catch Covid is likely to get it.
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Dr David Wrigley, deputy chair of the British Medical Association, said: “The number of people with Covid is now shockingly high with the most infections we’ve ever seen, and hospitalisations and deaths are also on the rise.
“Right now we’re in a situation where Covid is rife across the UK and yet testing – a simple tool to help people know if they have the infection – is no longer being made free for our patients.
“This means that as infection rates soar, people don’t know if they are infected and have to self-isolate, and therefore are unable to protect family members and the wider community.”
Covid hospitalisations are now higher than the January peak but numbers in ICU and dying are still lower than previous waves.
It comes as more than 800 local testing centres in car parks, community halls and shopping centres have been dismantled.
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Prof Tim Spector from King’s College London, who runs the Zoe Covid tracking app, said the timing of the end of free testing “couldn’t really be worse”.
He said England was now in a situation of “having to rely on the public to actually do the right thing and get these tests themselves when they get sick”.
He said: “If we’re not having free testing, let’s have a clear policy on how you would know that you’re infected, and therefore you can self-isolate.
“To do that, the Government needs to admit that the symptoms of Covid have changed in the last two years, and that 80% of people now present with cold-like symptoms.
“And there should be a public health campaign to say at the moment, when your chances of having Covid are greater than a cold…test if you can afford it – (and) even if you can’t – assume you’ve got Covid.”
The UK Health Security Agency said today the R range had dropped to between 1.1 and 1.2. Last week it was estimated to be between 1.1 and 1.4.
BA.2 is a sub-variant of Omicron that cannot be identified by standard PCR tests so has been dubbed ‘Stealth Omicron’.
It spreads quicker than its predecessor and UKHSA data showed it now accounts for more than 90% of Covid cases.
Kara Steel, senior statistician for the ONS Covid-19 infection survey, said: “Infection levels remain high, with the highest levels recorded in our survey seen in England and Wales and notable increases among older age groups.
“The rapid rise continues to be fuelled by the growth of the Omicron BA.2 variant across the UK.”