Covid hospital admissions in England have surged to their highest rate since the end of April in a sign that the virus is circulating among the population once again.
New figures from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) show hospital patients who tested positive for Covid stood at 4.6 per 100,000 people in the week to September 10 – up from 3.7 per 100,000 in the week previous.
It marks the highest number since the week ending April 30, although it is still some way below the figures seen at Christmas last year, when the rate reached 11.8 per 100,000.
Covid rates have been on a clear upwards trend for the last two months, prompting health experts to begin offering autumn booster jabs a month earlier than planned. Vaccinations for Covid and flu are now underway, with care home residents, the elderly and clinically vulnerable among the first in line to get their jabs.
The rollout has also started early as a precaution against a new Omicron subvariant of Covid that was first detected in the UK last month. The BA.2.86 variant – nicknamed Pirola – has not yet been classified as a “variant of concern”, but scientists have warned it carries a high number of mutations.
It is being closely monitored by experts but not enough data has been collected around the world to make a reliable assessment of how the strain might be spreading, the UKHSA said. So far, only 37 cases of Pirola have been identified in England, 28 of which have been linked to an outbreak in a care home in Norfolk at the end of August. Seven of these cases were admitted to hospital and no deaths due to Covid-19 have been reported.
A further five BA.2.86 cases have been identified in Scotland, and none have yet been reported in Wales and Northern Ireland. Dr Renu Bindra, UKHSA incident director, said: “It is clear that there is some degree of widespread community transmission, both in the UK and globally, and we are working to ascertain the full extent of this.
“In the meantime, it remains vital that all those eligible come forward to receive their autumn vaccine as soon as it is offered to them.” As experts warn Covid is circulating in the UK again, it is worth being aware of the symptoms of the virus so you can spot if you might have it and take precautions to avoid passing it on to others.
The ZOE Health Study tracks the symptoms being reported by people who have the virus, with the latest data showing the following as the most common signs right now:
Runny or blocked nose
Other signs can include a cough (with or without phlegm), a hoarse voice, muscle aches and pains, and an altered sense of smell.
If you have any of these symptoms, or have tested positive, NHS guidance says you should stay at home and avoid contact with others until you feel better, or do not have a high temperature.