Coronavirus cases in the UK are recovering from a jump in infections among students, according to a large study to track symptoms, as the Omicron BA.2 sub-variant shows early signs that it may outperform the original.
There were 159,586 new symptomatic cases of Covid-19 every day in the UK on January 24, according to estimates by the UK Zoe Symptom Tracking App, which is 10 per cent more than the 144,527 cases reported a week earlier. The number of cases peaked at nearly 210,000 in early January.
The increase in cases is due to the rapidly rising rate of infection under the age of 18, which “accelerated to its highest level,” the study said. The cases are also “transferred” to the age group of their parents, and infections are also increasing among people between the ages of 35 and 55.
The new data comes when Britain on Thursday rejected the last of its measures under Plan B for mandatory wearing of masks in shops and on public transport and requiring vaccine passports for major events.
Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London who led the study, said: “The recovery in the number of cases just as we lift restrictions has come sooner than many expected.
He demanded an increase in school returns after the holidays, which led to a “rapid increase” in the number of children, who then “switched” to parents and school staff.
Specter also warned that “another emerging factor” in the jump in the cases is the sub-variant of Omicron BA.2, which he said was “probably more contagious” than the original. Last week, the UK Health Security Agency described the subtype as an “under investigation”, citing “increased growth” over the earlier form of Omicron.
In the United Kingdom, the subvariant represents 1% of the genomically sequenced cases uploaded to the Gisaid global repository in the week to 23 January, compared to only 0.5% in the previous week.
In Denmark and India, BA.2 already accounts for about half of all sequenced cases, according to Gisaid.
The Danish Statens Serum Institut said on Wednesday that preliminary estimates show that BA.2 has a 50 percent transmission advantage over Omicron’s original version, BA.1, but is less likely to lead to hospitalization.
Specter predicts that infections “will remain high until spring.” “It is clear that Covid and its new versions will continue to have an impact on our daily lives for some time to come,” he added.
Meanwhile, new data from NHS England, released on Thursday, revealed that the shortage of staff in hospitals caused by the Omicron wave continues to decrease.
Some 23,770 employees were absent due to Covid’s disease or isolation at 137 hospital trusts in England as of January 23, down 53 percent from a peak of nearly 50,000 absences in early January. A total of about 68,000 NHS employees were absent on January 23 for all reasons.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organizations in the healthcare sector, said the improvement in staff morbidity was “encouraging.” However, he said the NHS was still “under real pressure” due to “very full” hospital wards.