Latest Covid REACT figures records second highest level since 2020 with cases believed to be rising in those over 55
Covid-19 infections in England, tracked by one of the country's biggest studies, are at their second highest level since recording began in 2020.
Just weeks before the country moves away from all final coronavirus restrictions on April 1, the Government-backed REACT-1 project has picked up its second highest rate of prevalence of the virus since it began monitoring infections at the start of the pandemic.
More than 94,000 volunteers were swabbed for the latest examination between February 8 and March 1 – recording a prevalence in England of 2.88 per cent or approximately one in every 35 people.
While the figure is significantly down on the 4.41 per cent recorded between January 5 and January 20 – it remains the second highest result in two years.
While cases look to be falling in the majority of age groups infection levels are showing signs of increasing again in those aged 55 and over – a section of the population which would be among the first to receive booster jabs last year.
Professor Paul Elliott, director of the REACT programme from Imperial’s School of Public Health, said: "It’s encouraging that infections have been falling across England, but they are still very high and the possibility that they are rising in older adults may be cause for concern.
"The good news is that this is a highly vaccinated group. However, a high number of infections will lead to more people becoming ill, so it’s important that people continue to follow public health guidance to avoid fuelling further spread of the virus."
According to the latest coronavirus data, both infections and deaths have risen in the past week.
Cases are up 46 per cent, with 346,058 people testing positive for the virus in the seven days up until Wednesday (March 9), and in the last seven days 778 people have been recorded as dying within 28 days of a positive test, which is a rise of almost 20 per cent.
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said while England is believed to be behind the peak of the Omicron wave, the pandemic is very much not finished.
She explained: "This data confirms that cases have declined substantially following the peak of the Omicron wave.
"However, the increasing presence of the BA.2 sub-lineage of Omicron and the recent slight increase in infections in those over 55 shows that the pandemic is not over and that we can expect to see Covid-19 circulating at high levels."
More than three million people have joined REACT studies since the nationwide surveys began at the start of the pandemic in 2020.
Kelly Beaver, CEO at Ipsos MORI, added: "It is very positive to see prevalence falling month on month, but vigilance remains critical particularly with the concern that we may be seeing a small uptick in cases among the elderly."
Earlier this year the Government set out its 'Living with Covid' plan which included the scrapping of all legal restrictions that meant people were no longer forced to isolate at home and were instead asked to follow guidance to keep themselves away from others for at least five full days.
From April 1, further steps will be taken which is set to include the end of all mass testing and free lateral flow tests for the majority of the public while the NHS Covid Pass will no longer be recognised as a 'vaccine passport'.
There are also plans to offer older members of the population a fourth booster this spring.