covid cases have passed 275,000 a day and could reach 300,000 early next week, scientists say.
Daily symptomatic infections have risen by 150 per cent this month, rising from 114,030 on 1 June to 285,507 on Monday, according to the latest figures from the ZOE Covid study app.
That’s an increase of 171,477 new infections a day and puts them at the highest level they have been for all but three weeks of the pandemic.
Tim Spector, the King’s College London professor who runs the app, told I he expects cases will rise to “just under” 300,000 a day by the weekend and could well keep rising next week – although he can’t be sure.
Either way, he and others believe we may be nearing the peak of this wave – the third of the year so far.
“On the current trajectory we will be just under 300,000 cases this weekend. Beyond that I’m not sure if it will plateau or keep rising,” he said.
Professor Spector’s view that we may be nearing a peak – and uncertainty about exactly when this may be – is seconded by Professor Karl Friston, a virus modeller at University College London.
“I anticipate that they will peak (or at least plateau) in the next week or two – but I could be very wrong,” he says.
The surge in cases this month was initially driven by the long weekend of Jubilee Celebrations, which began on Thursday 2 June.
The impact of this type of event typically feeds through to increases in Covid cases for about a fortnight, experts say.
But over the course of this month the overwhelming driver of infections has been the rapid growth of the new Omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5 – which have ousted BA.2 as the dominant variants in the UK.
Waning immunity from vaccination and prior infection has also played a role in the increases, as has increased socializing as people increasingly return to normal.
“This significant rise in symptomatic infections is really worrying and demonstrates that there’s no room for complacency as far as Covid is concerned,” said Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick.
“It’s a wake-up call about our vulnerability to new variants – this wave of infection is driven by new Omicron subvariantsBA.4 and BA.5, that are more infectious and able to evade immune protection afforded by vaccination and previous infection.
“The good news is that where other countries have experienced significant waves of B.4 and BA.5, namely Portugal and South Africa, these waves have now peaked without a major increase in severe disease, principally due to the levels of vaccination in these populations.
“The hope is that this will be similar here and that we have reached the peak of infections.”
However, while this wave may be nearing a peak, the greater-than-expected rise in cases this month has raised concerns about the likely magnitude of the autumn wave that is widely expected when schools go back after the summer holidays and the weather cools.
The greater transmissibility of BA.4 and BA.5 indicates the autumn wave, which was already expected to be higher than in this wave, could be even greater than feared.
“This wave provides a warning for what we could experience over the autumn and winter. We need to prepare now for the autumn and winter months when colder weather will drive people indoors increasing the risk of infection not only with new Covid variants but also with other respiratory virus infections.
“Waning immunity means that booster shots will be necessary in the autumn to protect the elderly, clinically vulnerable and frontline healthcare workers,” he said.
Steve Griffin, a virologist at Leeds University, said: “The scale of reinfection leading to symptomatic disease is troubling, particularly as antibody immunity is waning in the majority of the population that didn’t receive boosters in the spring.
“Vaccine uptake in children remains extremely low, especially in primary schools, meaning that what little provisions are in place will be unlikely to prevent high prevalence.”
Scientists say we could be reaching the peak of this wave because so many people have been infected this month that the nation’s immunity has gone up – while the warmer weather means people can spend more time outside, where the risk of catching the virus is much lower .
These factors are expected to outweigh the impact of big gatherings such as Glastonbury and Wimbledon – while the school holidays later next month should help drive rates down, scientists say.