Covid infections have hit a record high across the UK – just 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 26, 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 the week before. Both are record highs.
Timing ‘couldn’t be worse’
From Friday, people in England need to turn to the high street for tests if they want them.
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.”
Earlier, Professor 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”.
‘Covid has changed’
He told Times Radio that “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 per cent 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.”