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21 March 2022

Is the UK heading for a fifth wave of Covid-19?

There are now nearly 15,000 patients across Britain in hospital with the virus.

By Michael Goodier

The number of patients with Covid-19 in UK hospitals is rising again. Government figures show that 14,671 patients across the UK were in hospital with the virus on 17 March – the highest figure since the start of February.

In England, NHS figures show that while most patients are still “incidental” – meaning they are primarily being treated for something else – the proportion primarily being treated for Covid-19 has risen in recent weeks.

Incidental admissions require the same infection control measures as other Covid patients, so they present a greater burden to hospitals. Many of them can end up turning into more serious cases, or Covid can make other conditions worse.

The rise in hospital admissions follows a rise in infections, a trend being seen across Europe. Much of that is down to the rapid spread of the now-dominant Omicron BA.2 variant, which is more transmissible than the BA.1 variant. Separate figures from the ONS show that fewer British people are wearing face coverings (74 per cent, down from 83 per cent) and social distancing (28 per cent down from 32 per cent) than previously.

So far, the number of people dying from Covid-19 has remained fairly stable, with high levels of immunity meaning there hasn’t been a major increase. The NHS in England has started inviting eligible people to come forward for a spring booster jab today (21 March).

Nikki Kanani, a GP and the deputy leader of the NHS Covid Vaccination Programme, said: “Sadly, we are still seeing large numbers of people seriously unwell in hospital with Covid so it remains vital that those most at risk come forward when they are invited to do so.”

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