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How the UK’s rising Covid cases compare to other countries

Omicron sub-variants driving up infections across world, WHO director-general warns

Joe Sommerlad
Sunday 17 July 2022 11:43 BST
Related: Sesame Street’s Elmo gets a Covid-19 vaccine

Britain is currently seeing its fifth wave of Covid-19 infections, experts have warned, as daily case numbers hit a record high of 351,000, an increase of 13 per cent from the beginning of July.

Professor Tim Spector, the lead scientist behind the ZOE Covid app, said one in 15 people in the UK currently have the virus, adding that cases are still rising across England but flattening in Scotland and Wales.

“The new wave is now starting,” said Professor Christina Pagel during a recent briefing by the independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).

“We will have a new wave of infections this month. Now hopefully it won’t be as high as the previous two waves and might be lower. But we can’t count on that and either way we are going to see more people becoming infected.”

The situation first became apparent in the aftermath of the four-day public holiday to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, when a 43 per cent spike in coronavirus cases was reported. It is feared that other major summer gatherings such as Glastonbury, Notting Hill Carnival and the Edinburgh Festival could all amount to super-spreader events if proper precautions are not taken.

The surge is reportedly being driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants of Omicron, the strain that spread rapidly across the UK in December 2021 and January 2022 before gradually falling away.

These latest incarnations were first discovered in South Africa in January and February respectively and are effectively the grandchildren of Omicron.

They feature three mutations to their spike proteins, which it is feared enable them to retrain their attack on human lung cells.

That means they have more in common with the earlier, more dangerous Alpha and Delta variants than the highly transmissible but milder Omicron, which targeted upper respiratory tract tissue.

Potentially, these mutations might also enable the sub-variants to sidestep antibodies from past infections or vaccination and therefore overcome immunity.

While the situation in the UK is clearly a cause for concern, inviting fears of a return to masks and social distancing or even stricter measures, what are Covid case numbers currently like around the rest of the world?

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that Covid infection rates are rising across the world as a result of the two Omicron sub-variants, which the body has been monitoring since April.

The WHO’s dashboard, which reports case numbers over the last seven days, currently places France at the top of the league table globally on 901,988 new cases over the last week, followed by Italy on 717,506 and the US on 709,877.

Next up is Germany on 584,349, Brazil on 384,079, Japan on 323,783, Australia on 256,950 and China on 216,791.

Spain ranks next on 155,431, followed by South Korea (147,873), Mexico (122,237) and India (121,294).

Back in Britain, Professor Adam Finn, a member of the government’s Joint Committee on Immunisations and Vaccinations, has already called for a new round of booster jabs to be made available by September to combat waning immunity, more than six months on from the last major vaccine campaign just before Christmas.

“The booster protection does fade, particularly against milder infection and after a while against severe infection as well. So that’s a disappointment for us all with regards to these vaccines which have otherwise been very valuable in terms of the pandemic,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday.

“But we are going to need to provide boosters, particularly to people who are at risk getting very seriously ill if they get it later in the year.”

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