Coronavirus infections are rising fastest among older people in England as the country is hit by an ‘unprecedented’ surge in Covid-19, a major study tracking the virus has found.
Despite signs that infections in children and young adults may have peaked, the prevalence of Covid among people aged 55 and over reached 8.3% at the end of last month.
About 6.4% of people in England had Covid-19 between March 8 and March 31, a pandemic record, according to the React-1 study from Imperial College London, published on Wednesday.
The latest infection levels in the UK are more than 40% higher than the previous peak recorded during the first wave of the Omicron variant in January.
The researchers said Covid infections had reached “unprecedented levels” in March, warning that “the high and rising prevalence among the elderly could increase hospitalizations and deaths despite high levels of vaccination”.
Currently, 20,398 hospital beds are occupied by Covid patients in the UK, the highest level recorded this year. However, nearly three-fifths are treated primarily for another condition.
“We don’t know yet when we will see a peak in the older age group. . . and because these people are at higher risk of serious consequences, this is of particular concern, ”said Christl Donnelly, professor of statistical epidemiology at Imperial College London, co-author of the study involving 110,000 attendees.
The current wave of infections is the result of a combination of “people mixing more” and “decreasing [vaccine] protection against infection,” said Paul Elliott, professor of epidemiology at Imperial College London who led the study.
Thrust was also driven by the Omicron BA.2 sub-variant, which is 30% more transmissible than the original Omicron variant.
Despite rising case rates, the UK government continued with its ‘Living with Covid’ strategy, ending universal free testing on April 1 and dropping all remaining anti-Covid measures in England.
Imperial’s React-1 study, which has cost £18million since September, according to government contract data, is one of a slew of pandemic research projects that have lost public funding in recent years month.
The last set of results is the last to be produced by the survey. Some experts have warned that the government’s strategy risks making the pandemic harder to monitor and could accelerate the spread of the virus.
Donnelly warned that due to reduced testing, “it may take a bit longer” to detect new variants.
Elliott said he was “disappointed” that the study was coming to an end, but added that he was “very pleased” that monitoring of the virus was continuing through the Office for National Statistics.
UK-wide PCR lab capacity has more than halved to around 420,000 tests a day after free mass testing ended, according to the latest government data.
The government has not renewed funding for King’s College London symptom tracker Zoe, which costs around £2.5million a year. The budget for the ONS Covid infection survey has been cut by 25%, but the study will continue for at least a year.