The latest coronavirus wave is spreading through the UK, with an estimated 1.7m people infected, according to the most recent weekly figures. Here is everything we know about the current situation.
How fast is Covid-19 spreading right now?
Covid infections are on the rise across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with the number of people infected reaching highs not seen since July.
Around one in 35 people in England are estimated to have had Covid in the week ending October 3, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The figure was one in 40 in Wales and Northern Ireland.
The trend is less clear in Scotland, although infection rates are nearly as high, with one in 50 people estimated to have had Covid in the week ending September 29. However, infection numbers are still some way off the highs seen during the first Omicron wave.
At a regional level, the South West and West Midlands have the UK’s highest infection rates, with an estimated 3.1% of people having the virus in the week to October 3.
At a sub-regional level, however, it is part of the North West which is hardest hit. 3.6% of people were estimated to have Covid in the local authority areas of Allerdale, Barrow-in-Furness, Carlisle, Copeland, Eden and South Lakeland, the highest rate in the UK.
And it seems older people are more likely to have the virus. When looking at different age bands, infection rates were highest among over-70s and lowest among secondary school-age children, the data from the ONS Coronavirus Infection Survey shows.
What is driving the current wave?
Omicron has long been the dominant variant in the UK, taking over from Delta in late 2021. The Omicron subvariants BA4 and BA5, which were behind the summer wave, still represent the vast majority of cases.
A sample of positive Covid tests are analysed each week to see what variant they are. According to the ONS, BAmade up 85.8% of those analysed in the week ending 25 September 2022, with BA4 comprising a further 10.6%.
Officials are keeping tabs on a rising Omicron variant, BA2.75, which was responsible for 3.5% of infections, but they say it is not causing the current wave. Health bosses expected Covid cases to rise as colder weather led to people spending more time indoors.
What are the latest symptoms?
The classic symptoms of Covid are a high temperature, a persistent cough and a loss of smell or taste, but many people report other symptoms such as a sore throat.
Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist on the ZOE Health Study, said in a recent YouTube update that the symptoms of common cold and Covid are very similar, but there are some signs to help tell them apart.
He said: “A sore throat is common in over 60% of both of these (colds and Covid). In a cold, you are more likely to have a runny nose than for Covid and you are also more likely to be having sneezing, which again is less frequent with Covid. But it is pretty hard to tell and you just need to get yourself tested.”
How many people are ending up in hospital or on ventilators?
The number of Covid patients in hospital has reached its highest level in months across Britain, latest figures show.
The total number of Covid patients in English hospitals has climbed to 10,608 as of October 12, the highest figure since July. Weekly hospital admissions have doubled in three weeks, the NHS figures show.
And the number of patients on ventilators is also climbing. On October 11, there were 224 patients on ventilators, the highest figure since August 9.
Around one in three hospital patients with Covid (36%) were being treated primarily for the virus as of October 11, the figures show. This is a higher rate than in other home nations and may reflect the ending of routine testing of hospital patients in England in August.
In Wales, the number of patients with Covid in hospital has more than doubled in three weeks, and stood at 498 as of October 11. Only 14 of these patients – 3% – were being actively treated for Covid-19.
In Scottish hospitals, the number of Covid patients in hospital stood at 884 on October 9, the highest level since mid-August. But the number in Scottish intensive care units remains low, at just eight patients as of the same date, the Public Health Scotland figures show.
In Northern Ireland, hospitalisations have been falling, with 328 Covid inpatients in hospital as of October 13, down from 416 the week before.
How many people are dying?
The number of Covid-19 deaths remains far lower than in earlier waves of the pandemic.
For example, in England, 274 deaths had Covid-19 written on the death certificate in the week to September 30. This compares with 8,335 in the week ending 17 April, 2020, at the height of the first wave.
Who can get an autumn booster vaccine?
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended an autumn booster for those most at risk, including:
- Residents of care homes for older adults
- The over-50s
- Frontline health and social care workers
- Those aged 16 to 49 years with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk, and adult carers
- Adult household contacts of immunosuppressed people
Vaccination programmes have begun across all four home nations.
On Saturday, a further 12 million people across England became eligible for their autumn booster, as its scheme widened to include the over-50s.
More than seven million people have already had an autumn top-up.