Soaring infection rates across the UK
Covid-19 infections have risen sharply across most of the UK and are nearing record levels in England, while both Scotland and Wales have reached an all-time high, new figures out this lunchtime show.
Across the UK as a whole, 4.26 million people were likely to have had coronavirus last week – just short of the 4.30 million in the first week of 2022, which was the highest total since estimates began.
Northern Ireland is the only nation where infections are believed to be falling, with levels having dropped for two weeks in a row, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The steep rise in infections across much of the country is being driven by the Omicron BA.2 variant, a more transmissible form of Omicron, the ONS said.
The figures are further evidence that Covid-19 is becoming rapidly more prevalent in the UK and come as the number of people in hospital with the virus continues to increase.
Around one in 16 people in private households in England – or 3.5 million people – are likely to have had Covid-19 in the week to March 19.
This is up from one in 20, or 2.7 million people, in the previous week and is the third week in a row that infections are estimated to have risen.
Wales has also seen its third successive jump in infections, with the figure up from 125,400 people, or one in 25, to 192,900 people, or one in 16: a record high.
In Scotland, infections have now risen for eight weeks in a row and have also reached another record high, with nearly half a million people (473,800) likely to have had Covid-19 last week, or one in 11. This is up from 376,300 people, or one in 14, the previous week.
But in Northern Ireland infections have fallen for the second successive week and now stand at an estimated 108,700 people, or one in 17, down from 130,600 people, or one in 14.