Cases of Covid-19 are rising once again in the U.K., according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, just as the government lifts its remaining travel restrictions.
ONS figures published Friday showed that close to 1 in 21 people, the equivalent of 3.28 million, in the U.K. were estimated to have tested positive for the coronavirus in the week to March 12.
In England alone, 4.87%, equal to around 2.1 million or 1 in 20 people, were thought to have been infected with Covid-19 last week. That was up from an estimated 3.8% of England’s population in the week to March 5.
Hospitalizations linked to the virus were also up in England last week, to around 13 per 100,000 people, from 11 per 100,000 the previous week.
The uptick in cases comes as the U.K. lifted the last of its Covid travel restrictions. As of Friday morning, people entering the U.K. are no longer required to test for the virus or complete a passenger locator form.
The prevalence of the omicron BA.2 subvariant was said to have increased last week across England, Scotland and Wales, according to the ONS, while the number of omicron BA.1 subvariant infections decreased.
The BA.2 variant has been described as a “stealth” variant because it has genetic mutations that could make it harder to distinguish from the delta variant using PCR tests, compared with the original omicron variant, BA.1.
Indeed, the rise in cases across Europe more broadly is being attributed to the prevalence of the “stealth” subvariant of the omicron strain, known as BA.2.
Cases were found to be rising across the U.K, with Scotland estimated to have had around 7% of its population testing positive for Covid last week, up from 5.7% the week prior.
The case rate in Wales was estimated to have risen to 4.1% from 3.2% over the same period.
ONS said the percentage of cases in Northern Ireland had increased in the two weeks up to March 12 but the trend was uncertain in the most recent week.
The number of deaths linked to Covid-19 across the U.K. fell to 814 in the last week, down from 879 for the week through to March 4.
Elsewhere, China is also dealing with its worst Covid-19 outbreak since the initial phase of the pandemic.