Covid cases have climbed by a million in a week in the UK, data from the Office for National Statistics reveals.

Swab tests suggest about one in every 16 people is infected, as the contagious Omicron variant BA.2 continues to spread.

That’s just under 4.3 million people, up from 3.3 million the week before.

The figures for the week ending 19 March, are thought to give the most accurate reflection of what’s happening with the virus in the community.

Rates were up in England and Wales, and Scotland reached a new high.

Infections have started decreasing in Northern Ireland, however.

The rates across the nations were:

  • England: 6.4%, up from 4.9% last week – approximately one in 16 people
  • Wales: 6.4%, up from 4.1% last week – approximately one in 16 people
  • Northern Ireland: 5.9%, down from 7.1% last week – approximately one in 17 people
  • Scotland: 9%, up from 7.15% last week – approximately one in 11 people

A high number of infections means the UK can expect Covid hospitalisations to rise too, although vaccines are still helping to stop many severe cases, say experts.

According to the latest figures, there were 16,975 patients in hospital with the virus on 23 March. About half will have been admitted for something else, rather than Covid, but tested positive.

Just over 300 of them needed an intensive care bed with a ventilator to help them breathe.

England’s chief medical officer Prof Sir Chris Whitty said earlier this week that while the virus was causing pressure in the NHS, the high rates of transmission were fortunately not translating into lots of intensive care cases and deaths.

Staff absences at NHS hospitals in England due to Covid have risen by 31% on the week to 13 March.

About of 23,127 staff at hospital trusts in England – 2% of the total workforce – were absent, either because they were sick with the virus or were self-isolating.

People aged 75 and over and those who are immunosuppressed can book a spring booster jab to top up their protection against Covid.

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