The final official figures on cases of Covid-19 have been released today by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Coronavirus infections in England are at their highest level since the start of the year.

Here, i looks at the how Covid infections are impacting the whole of the UK and the factors driving increases in cases.

Are Covid cases rising in the UK?

The latest official figures of coronavirus infection in England show cases of Covid have risen, with around one in 40 people positive with the virus.

This is the highest level of positive cases for England since the week to 3 January, when the total stood at 2.2 million.

The Covid infection trend in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is uncertain, though there are signs the virus is also continuing to become more prevalent in these areas.

Michelle Bowen, head of health surveillance dissemination at the ONS, said: “This week’s data show infections are rising in England; however, the trend is uncertain across the rest of the UK.

“In England, positivity increased in children and those aged 50 and over.

“The North West, East Midlands and South East of England all saw infections increase, though the trend is uncertain in all other regions.”

How many cases are there?

An estimated 1.5 million people in households in England were likely to have had coronavirus in the week ending March 13, up from 1.3 million in the previous week, according to analysis by the ONS.

Elsewhere in the UK, the picture of Covid infections is not as clear. The reason for the uncertainty is because of lower numbers of samples received for Scotland and Wales. Too few samples were returned in Northern Ireland to produce a new estimate, so estimates have only been updated with additional test results received up to 7 March, 2023. 

In Scotland, the estimated number of people testing positive for Covid-19 was 136,200, which equates to around one in 40 people. The previous week, the figures for Covid cases stood at 105,100, the equivalent of one in 50 people.

Figures for Wales show 74,500 were likely to have the virus, equating to around one in 40 people.

In Northern Ireland, the estimated number of people testing positive for Covid was 26,000, around one in 70 people.

What’s behind the increase in Covid cases?

Experts believe there are a number of factors driving the increase in cases.

Now spring is here, people are socialising more. Covid-19 spreads very easily through close contact with people who have the virus – hence why increased social interactions would contribute to a surge in cases. It’s also more likely for people to catch the the virus indoors or in crowded places.

Tim Spector, professor of epidemiology at King’s College London and co-founder of the Zoe Covid Study, told i: “The main cause of this peak – according to our modelling – is an increase in contact rates as spring approaches. This increase is based upon our behaviour, as measured through Google mobility and Department of Transport data over the past two years.”

“The next peak in prevalence is anticipated in late March 2023 – when about 3.5 per cent of the UK population will be infected.”

Children in particular are thought to be contributing to rising cases. As well as passing it on to one another at school, they can transmit it to their teachers, families and older people.

The levels of protection vaccines and previous infections offer most people tend to decline over time. As immunity wanes and new variants emerge such as the Omicron subvariant, XXB.1.9.1, cases can spread at an increasing rate.

As attitudes and guidance on Covid change, the lack of mandatory and widespread mask-wearing and self-isolation of positive cases is also partly behind the rise, scientists have said.

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